Fifth place, Ecuadorian Serie A
By Daniel Rubens
Football in 2016 has been all about the underdogs, from Leicester’s stunning run to the Premier League title to Iceland’s shocking jaunt to the quarterfinals of Euro 2016. Another such story could be currently unfolding in South America, one that might well top the rest.
There isn’t much information available on IDV’s pre-top-flight history. Based in Sangolqui, a suburb of Ecuadorian capital Quito, the club was founded in 1958 as Social Club and Deportivo Independiente Jose Teran by a Sangolqui native named Jose Teran and a group of his friends. Both the name and original colors of the club (red and white) were inspired by Club Atletico Independiente, one of Argentina’s powerhouses. However, IDV primarily played in Ecuador’s Second Category, the third tier of the country’s footballing pyramid, for most of the first 50 years of their existence.
That all started to change in 2006. That year, Ecuadorian businessman Michel Deller took the reigns at the club, changed its name from Independiente Jose Teran to Independiente del Valle, and switched its primary color scheme to blue and black. With these changes and Deller’s leadership, IDV won the Second Category in 2007 to earn promotion to the Serie B for the first time.
Their stay in that league didn’t last long. In just their second Serie B season, Los Negriazules ran roughshod over the division, with current Swansea City and Ecuadorian national team winger Jefferson Montero scoring 14 goals in 16 games to lead IDV to the title and into the first tier for the first time.
Despite struggling in each of their first two seasons in the Serie A, IDV managed to stay afloat, finishing in 10th of 12 — with the bottom two dropping down — in the aggregate table (there are two competitions per year in Ecuador, as with many other South and Central American countries) in both 2010 and 2011.
In 2012, Los Negriazules made their move up the table. Under the leadership of longtime Ecuadorian manager Carlos Sevilla, IDV finished fourth in the first stage table before Sevilla resigned and was replaced by Uruguayan Pablo Repetto, who led the club to another fourth-place finish in the second half (and is still the coach today), which earned IDV a spot in the 2013 Copa Sudamerica. While they were ousted in second knockout round by Universidad de Chile, it was just the beginning of the club’s forays into continental football, as IDV would finish the 2013 domestic season in second in the aggregate table to earn another bid to the Copa Sudamerica, as well as their first-ever to the Copa Libertadores.
The 2014 season had some similarities to the previous one, as IDV again finished second in the domestic league, two points back of champions Emelec, and was again dumped from the second round of the
That was a sign of things to come. IDV was knocked out of the 2015 Copa Libertadores in the first round by Estudiantes, but they bounced back with another third place finish domestically to earn a spot in the 2016 version of the Copa Libertadores.
This year has been the best yet for Los Negriazules. While they currently sit sixth in the Serie A Apertura with six games to go, their Copa Libertadores run has been one to remember and savor.
It almost wasn’t, however. In the qualification round, IDV faced off with Paraguayan powerhouses Guarani and — after winning the first leg 1-0 at home — were ahead on the away goals rule with time running down. Guarani was awarded a last-second penalty, though, which veteran Hernan Rodrigo Lopez stepped up to take. A goal would once again send IDV home, but Lopez shockingly skied his spot-kick, sending Los Negriazules through to the group stage in dramatic fashion.
Once there, IDV refused to go home quietly. They finished second in their group courtesy of a final-game draw away to Chilean giants Colo Colo in which Independiente’s central defensive pairing of Arturo Mina and Luis Caicedo — both of whom have been recently called into the Ecuador national team — stood tall to preserve the clean sheet and send IDV to the knockout stages.
The 16 teams that advanced were seeded by their group-stage results, which yielded an unfortunate matchup for Los Negriazules against defending champions River Plate. But, in the home first leg, IDV used their advantages — most notably the high altitude of their home — well to build a 2-0 lead. In Buenos Aires, they somehow held a dynamic River Plate attack to one goal, earning a 2-1 aggregate victory and advancing to the quarterfinals.
There, they met one of Mexico’s dominant sides, Pumas, and won the first leg 2-1 at home. However,
Those heroics have set up another matcuhp with a titan of world football in the semifinals. IDV will take on Boca Juniors in the two-legged semifinal, which begins next Thursday in Sangolqui before finishing a week later in Buenos Aires. After that, another powerhouse, either Brazil’s Sao Paulo or Colombia’s Atletico Nacional, awaits in the final. Getting there would be both a major upset and a tremendous accomplishment, and winning the tournament still feels very unlikely. But, as they’ve proved time and again over the past few years, betting against Los Negriazules is a dangerous proposition. IDV is close enough to taste glory; it’ll take a Herculean effort to get it, but it’ll be just as hard to knock out the tiny club.