Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Scouting Report: Ecuador

By Clemente Lisi – Harrison, NJ (Oct 10, 2011) US Soccer Players Association

Ecuador comes to the New York area to play the United States on Tuesday night at Red Bull Arena four days after embarking on their two-year quest to reach the 2014 World Cup finals. Ecuador defeated Venezuela 2-0 on Friday in their opening game in CONMEBOL World Cup qualifying.

Playing at home, the Ecuador victory was highlighted by the altitude of Quito (almost 10,000 feet above sea level) that favors the home team each time they host a match. The Ecuadorians will have no such luck playing 20 minutes outside of Manhattan. Although there should be plenty of Ecuadorian fans in what is expected to be a sellout (Red Bull Arena only seats 25,000), the USA will certainly give them a tough time.

Ecuador’s roster features mostly domestic-based players. The only name that really stands out is Manchester United midfielder Antonio Valencia. Eleven players called up by Colombian-born coach Reinaldo Rueda (formerly coach of Honduras and no stranger to the USA) play for Ecuadorian league teams, while five others are based in Mexico.

Both of Ecuador's goals against Venezuela came from Mexican Primera Division players. Namely, 23-year-old striker Jaime Ayovi, who plays for Mexico’s Pachuca, and Christian Benitez, who plays for Club America. Ayovi has four goals in 14 appearances for Ecuador, while Benitez, 25, is a veteran forward after being capped 44 times for Ecuador and scoring 19 goals.

After the win over, Rueda said altitude was not a factor, claiming instead that it was his side’s “conviction” and “harmony” that led to the victory. “In the days leading up to the game, there was a serene environment,” he told reporters during a news conference. “We knew the game would go well for us and that is what happened.”

Against Venezuela, La Tri played a 4-4-2 formation with Valencia essentially in the role of playmaker with Ayovi and Benitez in attack. On defense, Rueda started some relative youngsters, including Juan Carlos Paredes and Jairo Campos. The other player to worry about is striker Jefferson Montero, who plays with Spain’s Real Betis. Although he did not play against Venezuela, Rueda may want to use him – particularly on the left side – as an offensive alternative to his usual starters. Capped only 12 times since 2007, Montero, who is 22, has two goals for his country.

The team traveled to New York on Saturday with only 19 players after Rueda let back-up goalkeeper Alexander Dominguez and defenders Geovanny Caicedo and Diego Calderon return to their club Liga de Quito because of this week’s Copa Sudamericana match against Argentina’s Independiente.

Besides the conviction and harmony Rueda claimed made the difference for his team in Friday's qualifier, there is no denying that the quick and powerful Valencia played a big part of it. He served balls to his teammates and kept the attack going. Although he tends to drift to the right, Valencia battled for every ball in Venezuela’s half.

“For me it’s very important to motivate the team on the field,” said Valencia. “I try to do that every time I play, whether if it’s for Manchester United or the National Team, because that’s what I’m there for.”

A utility, player, Valencia said he has played many positions in his career – including as a right back and as a winger – but said he prefers to be an attacking midfielder. “I will play anywhere. Ultimately, my goal is always to make the fans happy,” he said.

Soccer is an important part of life across South America and Ecuador is no different. Most of the players on the team are Afro-Ecuadorian and come from an impoverished area known as the El Chota Valley. Although the region has largely been invisible to most of Ecuador, reaching the 2002 and 2006 World Cup finals helped shine a spotlight on the area. The plight of the people in that region – and many of its players – has been marvelously chronicled in the documentary “Dreamtown” by New York-based filmmaker Betty Bastidas.

On Tuesday night, Valencia and his teammates will have to contend with an energized US squad that is coming off Saturday’s 1-0 win over Honduras in Miami. The win, the first under coach Jurgen Klinsmann, came thanks a Clint Dempsey goal in the first half.

Rueda, who is no stranger to facing the USA during his time as coach of Honduras, said the Americans are “a tough team. For us, this game (against the USA) is preparation for World Cup Qualifying,” he said. “The USA will be prove to be a good rival.”

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