Last year Ecuadorian minnows Independiente del Valle shot to fame thanks to their fairytale run to the Copa Libertadores final. Against the backdrop of the devastating earthquake that claimed the lives of over 600 people in April 2016, Independiente gave the Ecuadorian public a much-needed feel-good story. Donations of their matchday gate receipts helped those affected and their tendency of improbable comebacks endeared them to neutrals around the continent.
The club may have only reached the Ecuadorian top flight for the first time in 2010 but they have quickly fostered an impressive reputation as one of the best producers of young talent in South America. Their Centro de Alto Rendimiento in the Quito suburb of Sangolqui has already brought through the likes of internationals such as Jefferson Montero, Juan Cazares, Carlos Gruezo, Cristian Ramirez and Junior Sornoza.
More recently, they’ve produced talented youngsters such as Jose Angulo and U20 star Bryan Cabezas, while the current crop includes the exciting Gabriel Cortez, Washington Corozo and last, but by no means least, new signing Michael Estrada. The 21-year-old may not have come through the youth divisions at IDV but his acquisition represents their ongoing commitment to youth development.
Estrada began his career at Macará, making his debut in 2013, and began to get regular game time after their relegation to Serie B. 2015 proved to be his breakthrough season as he hit 13 goals in 39 games and off the back of it earned a move to Serie A side El Nacional.
The lanky striker took to top flight football with ease, scoring 18 goals in 40 games for El Nacional, and was quickly snapped up by Independiente del Valle at the start of 2017. Although IDV crashed out of the Libertadores early, Estrada scored twice in four games and helped himself to another five goals in nine league appearances before an injury ruled him out for a month.
Estrada marked his return from injury with the winner against Universidad Catolica, keeping IDV’s push for the title on course, and he also made his Ecuador debut back in March, capping what has been a fantastic year for the young striker.
Measuring roughly 6’ 2”, Estrada inevitably provides a significant aerial threat, a key quality needed for a striker leading the line. Built more in the mould of a young Emmanuel Adebayor, he doesn’t necessarily have the physicality of other strikers his size but nevertheless has an excellent leap and intelligent movement to compensate for it.
Given his height and aerial ability, Estrada can also act as the focal point for long balls, bringing others into play with flick-ons and knock-downs, as shown by some of the latter clips in the video above.
However, Estrada does lack a bit of upper body strength and when it comes to challenging for balls from a standing position with his back to goal he is not as effective as when he attacks the ball. It’s an area that he still needs to work on, as the raw material is there to be refined if he is to become a truly top quality striker.
Without wanting to stray into the realm of cliché, Estrada is equally, if not better, with the ball at his feet when in front of goal. He may not have the searing pace but he is certainly no slouch, especially when he can stretch his long legs out, and his clever movement allows him to ghost into goalscoring positions. In one-on-one situations, he never seems to panic and is unerring with his finishing off either foot, although he does need to work on being caught offside.
While most of his goals come from inside the box, he is also capable of the occasional strike from outside of the box too.
His brace against Clan Juvenil earlier this season was a perfect example of these aforementioned strengths. In the first instance, we see Estrada make a run in behind the defence, giving his teammate in possession a through ball option.
However, the player with the ball opts to cuts inside, so Estrada then drops deeper, bringing his marker with him before darting around the front of him as the ball is slipped through to him. The pass is a bit undercooked but Estrada manages to drag the ball away from the converging centre back and full back to go through on goal and finish.
In his second of the brace, below, we see two defenders occupying Estrada his favoured position left of centre. This has created quite a big gap between the two centre backs and, as one of defenders steps out to engage the man with the ball, Estrada makes his diagonal run from left to centre.
Estrada has the pace and strength to hold off his marker and once inside the box has the composure to place the ball past the rooted goalkeeper.
His goal record at every club he has played for is testament to this finishing ability and, combined with his aerial ability, makes him a very interesting all-round striker.
FIRST TOUCH & LINK UP
One of Estrada’s best qualities is his first touch. Not only does this allow him to get early strikes away at goal, but it also means he can bring others into play quickly, control difficult balls with apparent ease and take opponents out of the game with a single touch.
In particular, the first clips in the video below show some lovely cushioned first-time passes to present teammates with goalscoring chances, displaying an unselfishness and awareness of those around him.
As well as acting as a mobile focal point up front, Estrada’s technical qualities and movement mean that he is also adept at dropping deep and linking play, rather than just finishing off moves.
His passing is decent and he is not opposed to dragging defenders out wide in order to free up space for his teammates in the middle. His tendency is to operate in the left hand channel and his crossing is relatively good too.
In particular, Estrada seems to have developed a good understanding with Gabriel Cortez, as shown in the example below. Here Estrada has dropped deep to collect the ball and, spotting Cortez’s run in behind the full back, delivers a perfect through ball. The shot is saved but Estrada continues his run to tuck home the rebound.
Ever since the tragic death of Chucho Benitez, Ecuador has struggled to find a top level centre forward to replace him. Both Felipe Caicedo and Enner Valencia have performed well but Estrada could well prove to be the long term solution, providing both the aerial threat of Caicedo with some of the mobility and technique of Valencia. Given the abundance of direct wingers that Ecuador produces, you would imagine that Estrada would get plenty of service.
At club level, Estrada is still pretty early into his Independiente del Valle career and he’ll be aware that he’s at a great place for nurturing young talent. A couple more seasons at the Estadio Rumiñahui would be preferable but IDV may not be able to reject a big offer for their rapidly improving striker. Mexico or Brazil would probably be the next logical step but perhaps a move to Portugal could be a good fit while he adapts to the physical demands of the European game.