Inside Independiente del Valle, Ecuador's goldmine of talent
An extensive profile of the club powering a new generation of Ecuadorian talent
Ecuador has been a fast-growing footballing nation over the past couple of years, and a little-known club called Independiente del Valle have been the driving force behind that rise which has taken their nation to the 2022 FIFA World Cup.
The club itself reached the Copa Libertadores final in 2016 before winning the Copa Sudamericana in 2019. Now, they’re set to face Brazilian giants São Paulo in another Copa Sudamericana final in October. But how have they managed to do what they have done?
Inside Independiente del Valle
The history of Independiente del Valle
Independiente del Valle were founded on the 1st of March 1958 by José Terán, accompanied by some of Teran’s friends. The club was located in Sangolquí, some 17 kilometers from Ecuador’s capital Quito. Then called Club Deportivo Independiente, they played in red and white, inspired by the Argentine club now called CA Independiente.
Following a couple of name changes to honour the late Terán, Independiente found themselves mired in financial difficulties, struggling to stay afloat. That’s where Michell Deller comes into the picture. A wealthy businessman through a vast portfolio of companies, Deller changed the club’s name to Independiente del Valle in 2007, switching its colours to blue and black as well. Deller is still involved with Independiente del Valle as their honorary president.
2009 is when the project that yields extraordinary results today was set in motion. Following the club’s first-ever promotion to the top-flight of Ecuadorian football, Independiente Formativa was born. Its goal was to place emphasis on the youth academy and promote as many home-grown players as possible to the first team.
The infrastructure of Independiente del Valle
They signed an agreement with ASPIRE, an academy group based in Qatar with links across world football, who helped them set up multiple catchment academies across Ecuador. To further enhance their youth development, Independiente del Valle established an agreement with Alianza Cotopaxi SC to become their reserve team in 2018, a year after a promotion to the second division.
The name duly changed to Club Deportivo Independiente Juniors, and, at the time of writing, they sit in first place in the league while playing with a squad mixed with experienced players and youth graduates.
Photo by Rafael Cruz/Agencia Press South/Getty Images
Independiente del Valle are currently playing in its newly-built stadium Estadio Banco Guayaquil. Opened last year, moving to a modern stadium structure was a must for for the club in order to meet current FIFA standards. Furthermore, the club has a very modern training centre, articularly relative to Ecuadorian standard. Their continent-leading infrastructure is indicative of their success on and off the pitch.
The Centro de Alto Rendimiento is equipped with seven football pitches in total, one being an all-weather artificial grass one. It also houses both senior and youth teams, with a dining room, gym, indoor pool, as well as administrative offices. Also on the campus is a dormitory, where youth players are accommodated and cared for – a model typical of South American football.
Furthermore, academic education is provided alongside their football development. Youth players go to school at the Escuela IDV Calderon, which was recently opened in February this year. Such an innovation is ground-breaking not only for Ecuadorian football but across the entirety of South America. The project, titled ReinventED IDV, has been driven by Michel Deller.
The success of Independiente del Valle
All of this work and investment has paid off for Independiente del Valle. They managed to shock South America in 2016 by beating both Boca Juniors and River Plate in the Copa Libertadores before losing the final to Colombian side Atlético Nacional, all while playing multiple home-grown players. Few managed to bridge the gulf from Ecuador to Europe, but they still achieved something remarkable on their own continent.
Three years later, Independiente del Valle triumphed over Corinthians and CA Independiente on their way to the Copa Sudamericana success. The Ecuadorians beat CA Colón 3-1, which was the first big trophy for Miguel Ángel Ramírez’s side. Again, that team was defined by a seam of home-grown talent.
Photo by Raul Sifuentes/Getty Images
Now, three years later, Independiente del Valle are once again in the final of the Copa Sudamericana. They got there by beating Lanús, Deportivo Táchira and FBC Melgar, playing youth products like Moisés Ramírez, Luis Segovia, Jhoanner Chavez, Marco Angulo and Junior Sornoza. Most of these players also were important in Independiente del Valle’s league campaign last season, as they were crowned as champions for the first time in their history.
All of Independiente del Valle’s success started with placing importance on their youth academy, but their excellent scouting should not go underappreciated either. They focused on the top two divisions of Argentine football, signing a number of excellent players from those markets. Lorenzo Faravelli, Lautaro Diaz, Jonathan Bauman, Mateo Carabajal and Nicolas Previtali are just a few examples.
Crucially, the club have also sold a plethora of players for relatively big transfer fees recently – but it should be stressed that they aren’t a ‘rich’ club that invest big fees and salaries for incoming players.
Independiente del Valle's pathway
This year alone, a number of academy players have made debuts for the first team. Despite a change in coach – as the Portuguese Renato Paiva left for Club Léon, to be replaced by the Argentina Martín Anselmi – the pathway still remained. Joel Ordóñez (17), Yaimar Medina (17), Orlando Herrera (18), Patrik Mercado (19), Anthony Valencia (18) and Garis Mina (19) all made first-team bows.
To further ram home the home-grown hegemony, all of the aforementioned names were key parts of the IDV youth team that fell at the final hurdle in the 2019 U-20 Copa Libertadores having dominated the entire tournament, succumbing to a very Uruguayan CA Peñarol side.
Unsurprisingly, Independiente del Valle always perform well in youth tournaments. They have now reached the final of the U-20 Copa Libertadores three times in a row. Against Nacional and Peñarol, both Uruguayan sides, they lost. But, in 2020, they vindicated their process by beating River Plate to win it all. That triumphant 2020 team included Moisés Caicedo and Piero Hincapié, now playing regularly for Brighton & Hove Albion and Bayer Leverkusen respectively.
Piero Hincapié at Bayer Leverkusen
The Under-18 team recently won a prestigious youth tournament the club hosted itself, seeing off Colombia’s Atlético Nacional in the final. Teams like Grêmio, RB Bragantino, CA Talleres and Santos Laguna also participated. Recently, the club’s U-15 team featured in an international tournament in Salzburg, where they beat teams like RB Leipzig and Internazionale before losing in the final to Malian side Yeelen Olympique.
Independiente del Valle's record sales
As touched on previously, Independiente del Valle’s success on the pitch – developing a competitive team made up of home-grown talent – has deliverd significant profits off the pitch. Since 2020 alone, the club have sold upwards of seven academy-produced young players to European clubs for fees above and beyond €2 million.
Moisés Caicedo is the most notable of them all. He broke out in a big way in 2021, establishing himself as one of the most exciting young talents in the entire Americas. Brighton & Hove Albion beat off competition to sign him, and, after a brief spell on loan in Belgium, the Ecuadorian international is now showcasing his high-level potential in Premier League midfields.
Ever the innovators, Belgian clubs have been quick to pounce on Independiente del Valle as a fruitful emerging market. Angelo Preciado was the first, moving to KRC Genk, and William Pacho and Joel Ordóñez were hot on his heels. The first two play regularly for their teams, while Ordóñez is acclimatising to European football in Club’s B team for the time being.
Furthermore, clubs in the Americas’ strongest leagues – Série A in Brazil, Primera División in Argentina, MLS in the USA – are increasingly looking toward Independiente del Valle to pick up their next profit-making player. Moving to one of those leagues represents a more manageable step up for players, with a more gentle assimilation of cultures.
One such example was the aforementioned Piero Hincapié, who moved to CA Talleres in Argentina. Less than a year after joining them, he was sold to Bayer Leverkusen for a €6.35 million fee – multiplying their initial investment by almost six-fold. He has since become a regular starter in the Bundesliga and is set to lead Ecuador’s defence at tis year’s World Cup.
Independiente del Valle's next generation
Beyond the first-team regulars getting picked up, players are being signed earlier and earlier from Independiente del Valle’s underage teams – a sure sign of a strong youth academy. The club, through their own success, now face a lot of competition from European clubs to retain their best emerging talents before they become first-team players..
Patrickson Delgado and Anthony Valencia went to AFC Ajax and Royal Antwerp respectively this year before featuring every week for the senior side. Now, I will highlight some of the best emerging players who should break into the senior set-up in the coming years.
Kendry Páez is the biggest talent in Independiente del Valle’s youth academy. Still eligible for the U-15 team, the youngster was the best player of their U-17 side and has recently been promoted to the U-19s.
He was crowned Player of the Tournament at this year’s Next Generation Trophy; he was the most important player of Independiente del Valle U-18s in the Copa Milo; he is now a starter for the oldest age group in the academy.
Páez has excellent technique and can do almost everything with his left foot. He is incredibly dangerous from set-pieces and has proved that he can score free-kicks from long range. Páez is very quick on the ball and has outstanding changes of direction and balance. He also is pretty tall for his age and is likely to grow a few inches further in the next few years.
He has a strong dribbling ability, underpinned by his athleticism and ball control, and has very good vision. Páez has a lot of attacking output and creates multiple chances per game at youth level. There are concerns about his mentality, but if he can stay on the right path, there is no doubt that the 2007-born talent will move to Europe once he turns 18.
José Klinger is another big talent in the Independiente del Valle youth system. A right-footed left winger, he may struggle to get into the first team in the future given they don’t play a shape that suits him. However, Klinger is doing really well at underage level and is the most important player for the U-19 side.
The Ecuadorian has good variation in his playing style, mixing up his movements in settled possession and timing his actions well. He’s dangerous with runs in behind, but can also carry the ball into dangerous areas before attempting to shoot from distance. Klinger has a good striking technique, but sometimes shoots from too far out. The youngster likes to carry the ball inside around the halfway line before switching play. His long passing technique is good.
Klinger plays with maturity, knowing when to take on opponents and when to slow down play. He is strong in shoulder-to-shoulder duels and is pretty athletic, changing directions quickly and looking quick. The mix of physical ability, athleticism and technical ability makes him a very interesting player for Belgian sides.
Jeampaul Herrera is a typical Independiente del Valle right-back. Like Angelo Preciado and Juan Hurtado, he’s not the tallest and has a pretty slim build but he is very good on the ball and has the drive to get forward.
The Ecuadorian right-back is quick and has good athleticism, moving very fluidly playing when one-twos with team-mates and progressing play through those combinations. Herrera is also excellent in small spaces and always maintains his composure under pressure. He has good changes of direction and agility in attacking 1-v-1 duels, running up and down the wing for the entire game. Herrera has an excellent technique in general; even showcasing his skills on the ball in defensive midfield at times.
He has a good positional sense and is really important in the build-up with his good passing technique and fluid movement. His crossing technique is good and he always spots his teammates in space, showing good decision-making and creating chances for team-mates.
I think that it is important that Herrera gains muscle and body mass to become an interesting target for clubs in Europe, but he certainly has the potential to reach that level and follow the footsteps of Preciado.
Steven Rai Heras
Steven Rai Heras is an Ecuadorian centre-back who was promoted to the U-17s pretty quickly, and the defender also was an important piece of the team that reached the final of the U-16 Next Generation Trophy.
Standing at about 1.78 metres tall, with the probability that he will grow further in coming years, Heras has a good build for a central defender. He also has good speed over both short and long distances, showing that he’s capable of covering a lot of distance in behind and playing in the system of Independiente del Valle. He needs to improve his defensive positioning but his good tackling and speed make up for it plenty of times.
In possession, Heras has a good passing technique as well as composure under pressure. Even though he still makes mistakes in possession, he has the potential to become a ball-playing central defender. At his young age, it’s important that he’s allowed to make mistakes, but his vision and decision-making in possession are really good.
I expect Heras to be integrated in the under 18/19 squad next season. He has the potential to reach the first team and to make a transfer to Europe later on in his career.
Jairo Reyes is another player that made a name for himself for the U-17 side. He was also a part of the U-18 squad that won the Copa Milo this year. The midfielder is around 1.75 meters tall and has an average build, likely to grow a few centimetres again.
He has good speed over both short and long distances. He is also very athletic; Reyes moves fluidly and changes directions quickly. Like Marco Angulo a few months ago, Reyes needs to increase his intensity and show his athletic ability more often. The midfielder has good receiving skills, trusted with powerful passes in the first phase of the build-up. The youngster has good ball control when dribbling and likes to dictate play.
Furthermore, Reyes always progresses the ball well and is an intelligent player both on and off the ball. He seems to have a good mentality and is obviously very talented. He could become a really good defensive midfielder in the Independiente del Valle set-up, or a similar one elsewhere.
There are plenty of other talented players in the 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2008 generation at Independiente del Valle. Justin Lerma (2008), Carlos Mejia (2007), Gerald Mora (2005), Keny Arroyo (2006), Michael Ayovi (2005), Darwin Guagua (2007) and Youri Ochoa (2005) can all reach the first team, along with the five players profiled above.
There are also some other players that could possibly reach the first time, but I’ve yet to watch enough footage of every player in the youth teams to form a representative opinion on them.
Learn more about Independiente del Valle
I would like to end this piece by mentioning that Independiente del Valle broadcasts some of the youth matches on their YouTube channel. You can watch matches of the Copa Milo back on Independiente del Valle’s Facebook account. Universidad Católica also broadcasts some of their youth matches on Facebook.
We, as Scouted Football, highly recommend checking out the Target Scouting website – a project run by Jeroen and others which posts regular match reports on obscure talent. There are countless reports on Independiente del Valle players on there, readily available to read.