Ecuador is one of the most improving South American teams in the last 20 years. The team that made its debut World Cup in 2002, qualified to three out of the previous five tournaments. In the 2018 World Cup qualifiers, Ecuador started well and was on the highway to Russia, but a horrible second round left them out. Even with this record, Ecuador keeps failing in the Copa America every time. La Tricolor qualified to the quarterfinals only twice in the last eight tournaments. In 2019, they will try to qualify through the group stage once again. If they want to do that, the fans must trust their striker, Enner Valencia.
Just like many other South American players, Valencia's beginning was hard. He was born in a town called San Lorenzo, which is placed in northern Ecuador. His family lived in the village, and his father worked as a milkman for a living. Since he was a child, Enner helped his father milk the cows and sell the product. With the money he earned, Enner bought himself shoes to play football.
He started his career in a small club named Junior de Sucumbios, the same club as another leading Ecuadorian player, Antonio Valencia. The two aren't relatives, but both of them played under coach Pedro Pablo Perlaza, who took Enner with him to Emelec in 2007. For Enner, it was a dream come true, and one practice was enough for the coaching staff to sign him. Although it was a dream come true, it was a difficult time for Enner. He was 18 years old and far from his family. He didn't have a place to live or something to eat, and for months he slept in the stadium. "I know the George Capwell stadium like the palm of my hand," he recalled in an interview.
Things started to change for him in 2009 when he was promoted to the senior team. He got an apartment to live in and earned a basic salary for a living. His professional debut was in 2010 when he received his first chance from the coach Jorge Sampaoli. At first, he played as an attacking midfielder or left winger, but then he moved up front to the striker position. It took no time until he proved that the decision was right. Valencia scored 33 goals in his four years in Emelec, including five goals during the 2013 Copa Sudamericana, which was enough to become the top scorer of the tournament.
These performances led him to his first experiences abroad when he was bought by the Mexican side Pachuca. He finished his debut season with 18 goals and Pachuca reached the league final. It was worth a chance in the national team for the 2014 World Cup, even though he wasn't a major factor during the qualifiers. Valencia scored twice in the group stage, but it wasn't enough for Ecuador to qualify for the knockout stage. He was immediately marked as the successor of Antonio Valencia in the national team. Later, he also became the most expensive transfer in the history of Mexican football, when Pachuca sold him for $20m to West Ham United. It was also the second most expensive Ecuadorian after Antonio Valencia. Unfortunately, he failed to impress in West Ham, loaned to Everton and had a bad form there as well.
After his time in England, Valencia decided to return to the big money of Mexican football. It was in a time that more and more players from South America prefers to accept offers from Liga MX than playing in Europe. He joined Tigres and became significant in the team, scoring 32 goals in 81 matches. He won two domestic championships and won the CONCACAF Champions League for two years in a row.
In these years he became more dominant also in the national team, and his record is unbelievable – 28 goals in 48 caps. He needs to score only three goals to be Ecuador's joint all-time top scorer, alongside Agustin Delgado. It shouldn't be a difficult mission for him, as he scored two goals in each of the last two Copa America tournaments.
This mission will be interesting, but Valencia has a bigger task in Brazil. He would like to qualify to the quarterfinals with his team, an achievement that Ecuador has rarely done. It wouldn't be easy, as Ecuador was drawn with Uruguay and Chile, who won the last three tournaments, and Japan. While the U-20 national team won their first South American U-20 Championship title and recently reached the U-20 World Cup semifinals, could Valencia and the senior team also do the unexpected?