What the United States can expect from Ecuador in Copa quarterfinal
Ecuador arrived to the United States for the Copa America Centenario as joint-leaders of 2018 CONMEBOL World Cup qualifying. Their strong start to that campaign included victories away to Argentina and at home to Uruguay, and they have continued that form into the Copa by progressing from the group stage of the competition for the first time since 1997 with draws versus Brazil and Peru and a victory over Haiti.
Head coach Gustavo Quinteros' side will be the next opponents for the United States in Thursday's quarterfinal in Seattle. U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann has made it clear that he expects a tough game against a team coached by a man he came up against on U.S. soil as a player during Germany's 1-0 win over Bolivia at the 1994 World Cup, and Ecuador certainly possess sufficient thrust and quality to suggest that is exactly what his side will get.
Style of Play
Ecuador usually line up in a 4-4-2 formation, with two mobile forwards and two out-and-out wingers in the form of Antonio Valencia and Jefferson Montero. They are a very athletic team and play an energetic style of football based around organised pressure on the ball and swift and direct counter-attacks once possession is won. Quinteros always asks his teams to play with a lot of intensity and his Ecuador side are no different in that regard.
Christian Noboa holds Ecuador together with his excellent passing range from the centre of midfield. He regularly receives the ball from the defence before moving it on swiftly and accurately out to the flanks or forward into the feet of the strikers. It is a key role and Ecuador can often struggle to function effectively as a team when the 31-year-old isn't on his game.
Noboa has also contributed strongly when given license to move forward into the final third. He chested down and finished emphatically from inside the area for the third goal in the 4-0 win over Haiti, having previously assisted the first with a well-weighted ball in behind to Enner Valencia. His superb outside-of-the-boot return pass to Montero released the Swansea man to square for Miller Bolanos to equalise in the 2-2 draw with Peru.
Ecuador possess pace aplenty, especially in forward areas. The direct and incisive dribbling of the two wingers regularly advances them into the final third, while Enner Valencia's tireless movement into the channels provides another valuable outlet. They are regularly able to get themselves into good positions in and around the penalty area.
With the likes of Bolanos, Noboa and Walter Ayovi, they have players capable of striking good efforts on goal from medium-to-long-range positions.
Ecuador are a strong and physical side and are capable of putting good pressure on the ball when they press together as a unit high up the pitch. At their best, they are unrelenting, consistently winning possession and then moving forward with speed down the flanks to put crosses into the area or win themselves set pieces in advanced areas.
The problem for Ecuador often comes in turning potentially dangerous positions into good-quality opportunities. There can be a marked lack of precision to their play in the final third, with a mix of underwhelming deliveries into the area and uncertain finishing sometimes preventing them from making the most of these situations.
They can also be quite ragged in their defending at times. Sharp combination play, such as that exhibited by Peru in the first half of their 2-2 draw, can drag their proactively minded central defenders out of position and create space in and around the area. Their desire to push forward can sometimes leave them vulnerable to the counter-attack.
When Noboa is pressed heavily, as he was in the first half against Peru, Ecuador lack a similarly gifted distributor to take over and provide a quality supply to those upfield.
Darlington Nagbe scored in the final minute of play to secure the United States a 1-0 victory when these sides met in Texas last month in a pre-tournament friendly. Both sides put out strong starting XIs in a tight match that featured just three shots on target.
In that respect, it was typical of encounters between these sides. Of the six meetings since the turn of the century, only two have seen more than one goal. The United States has recorded three victories to Ecuador's one in that time, while the two sides have shared a draw and a win apiece in their three encounters during Klinsmann's reign as national team head coach.
Nick Dorrington is a freelance football writer. Twitter: @chewingthecoca.