Xavier Zavala –
Ecuadorian football has been dominated by the same two teams for the last five seasons; Barcelona SC was the champion last season and Emelec held the trophy for the three previous ones. Nonetheless, this season, Ecuador has witnessed the rise of new teams to the top of the table. These teams are Universidad Católica and Delfín, two of the most exciting teams to watch and analyze since one of them is dominant in possession and scoring whereas the other team is the true definition of grinding out wins with physical defense and fast counterattacks.
As mentioned above, Universidad Católica relies on their offensive firepower. Jorge Célico, head coach of the team for several years now, has developed a passing game that has really taken the team forward. Last season, for example, there were signs that La Chatolei, one of their many nicknames in Ecuador, were primed to take the next step this season.
One sign was the fact that out of the top five passers in the league, four played for Universidad Católica. Another sign was that striker, John Cifuentes, who has adjusted to the team after his arrival last season, is currently the top scorer of the league.
The current roster includes a fantastic goalkeeper, in Hernán Galíndez, who is constantly aware of any gaps created by the offensive system, which often allow rivals to generate high-quality scoring opportunities. The defense is composed of two elite players, who both have a bright future: Robert Arboleda a rock-solid center back and Andrés Lopez, who plays almost as a right midfielder, given his incredible skills in going forward, finding gaps, crossing the ball and scoring goals. Between these two, only Arboleda has been called up for the national team in recent games, but that should change soon.
Universidad Católica are second in the league table
Wilmer Godoy and Facundo Martinez, who is the top passer of the league, initiate the defensive presence in midfield for Universidad Católica, and the initial build-up play. Martinez is also in charge of providing the team with balance and cover. On the wings, Romario Ibarra and Elvis Patta provide verticality and audacity to the team, since both of them look to constantly taking on players and pushing forward.
The season started with Luis Miguel Escalada playing the central attacking midfield role, where he provided 6 assists in his first 5 games—unfortunately, he suffered a torn Achilles in his fifth game versus River Ecuador. Since then, Matias Defederico has been the one pulling the strings on offense and setting up the top scorer of the league, John Cifuentes.
So far this season, the team sits second on the table behind Delfin, and Célico must be proud of his players. They are the highest scoring team, the team with the most passes and with the highest passing accuracy of the league, Also,they have six of the top eight players with the most passes in the league, and finally, 15 of their 17 goals so far this season have been assisted.
On the other hand, the leader of the table, Delfín, is a team whose mission is to disrupt their rival’s playing style by inviting them to attack and push their lines forward so that Delfin can find gaps to exploit on offense and run efficient and direct counter-attacks.
It all starts with Pedro Ortiz, who has been the most impressive performer for Delfin, given their defensive strategy, Delfin gets shot at frequently, but most of the shots are low-quality chances. Pedro Ortiz is the leader of the league in saves per goal conceded (more than 10 saves) and in minutes per goals conceded (246 minutes), however, his skills are not only visible in statistics but also on the field where he commands his defense and uses his reflexes to correct any mistake that happens inside the box.
The strength of the defensive system lies in the compact structure of the center backs and the defensive midfielders. Through a dominant aerial game as well as excellent positional awareness, Francisco Silva and John Chancellor provide a strong foundation for the team, Chancellor earned a call-up to the Venezuelan national team because of his recent performances.
Additional support from their defensive midfielders, Matías Duffard and Luis Luna, makes it very difficult to create quality chances against Delfin. Finally, as part of their strategy, the defenders are very aggressive and effective at closing and blocking passing lanes. It is not a coincidence that five out of the top 10 players with the highest number of interceptions in the league play for Delfin.
The role of offensive midfielder is performed mostly by Jacob Murillo and Elvis Patta. The position involves long exhausting stretches of running to cover large sectors of the field in order to help defend the wings and also to be available offensively when long passes from the back go to the target men. These forwards start counterattacks by heading the ball down to the wings for them to push forward in order to find opportunities to set up scoring chances.
The striking duo for Delfin who sit at the top of the aerial duels ranking are Roberto La Tuca Ordóñez (who can be considered to be an actual tank, and is so strong that every player who tries to challenge him, ends up either hurt or on the grass) and Carlos Garcés (who is also very efficient going for aerial duels but is usually the recipient of long passes or the finisher of counterattacks).
Delfín focuses on grinding out results
Delfin focuses on grinding out victories by playing a very physical style of play, which has allowed them to be the team with the least goals conceded so far this season. The head coach, Guillermo Sanguinetti, established a defensive structure in which the players rotate to cover to the middle of the park allowing their rivals to play on the wings. Playing this style in the Ecuadorian league has consequences, however, in that Delfin is the team with the highest number of fouls, yellow cards, and red cards, of the tournament so far.
The season has just started and there is a long way to go before a champion is declared, but these two teams are currently making the public statement of challenging the top contenders. In the end the winners are the fans who get to watch these teams play and improve throughout the season.
Xavier Zavala works as a football coach focused on individual data analysis. He is also the owner of the Ecuadorian football website “ecuastats.com”. As a holder of an MBA in Sports & Recreation management, he designed the football talent development program for the Football Foundation of South Africa. Xavier can be found on twitter @zavxav.