Soccer

Venezuela soccer match vs. Ecuador in Miami offers respite from political strife

Atlanta United star Josef Martinez of the Venezuelan national team, will play at Hard Rock Stadium June 1 as Venezuela faces Ecuador in a friendly match.
Atlanta United star Josef Martinez of the Venezuelan national team, will play at Hard Rock Stadium June 1 as Venezuela faces Ecuador in a friendly match. AP

A large, passionate crowd of Venezuelans is expected at Hard Rock Stadium Saturday night as Venezuela’s national men’s soccer team plays Ecuador in a warmup match for the upcoming Copa America.

With over 200,000 Venezuelan nationals living in Florida – most of them concentrated in South Florida – coach Rafael Dudamel knows the encounter will be emotional and offer a respite from the political and economic crisis back home.

“We know there is a huge Venezuelan community here in Miami that will make us feel at home, Venezuelans who for different reasons have emigrated from our country,” Dudamel said. “We want them to enjoy their `Vinotinto’ against Ecuador and we will work with great intensity to make them happy.

“We never can distract ourselves entirely from what’s going on with our country and our people, and that is what helps strengthen our bond. We want to bring joy to Venezuelans everywhere. We are proud to represent our country, and we are focused on the preparation for Copa America and World Cup qualifiers.”

Venezuela is the only South American nation that has never qualified for a World Cup. But the team has gotten stronger in recent years and beat Argentina 3-1 in a friendly in Madrid in March.

Key players include Salomon Rondon (Newcastle), Adalberto Penaranda (Watford), Josef Martinez (Atlanta United), Rolf Feltscher (LA Galaxy), Junior Moreno (DC United), and Jefferson Savarino (Real Salt Lake).

Goalkeeper Wuilker Farinez, a 21-year-old rising star who plays for Millonarios in Colombia, will miss the Ecuador game because he is playing for his club, but will join the national team next week for a June 5 game against Mexico in Atlanta and a June 9 game against the United States in Cincinnati.

Dudamel will use the Ecuador game to finalize his 23-man roster for Copa America, which begins June 14 in Brazil.

“I have a good idea of the roster in my mind, but there are a few spots I am still debating, so the Ecuador game will help me make those decisions,” he said. “It should be a great game. There is a lot on the line.”

Ecuador is led by captain Antonio Valencia, a 33-year-old fullback who played the past 10 years with Manchester United. He won two Premier League titles, an FA Cup, the UEFA Europa League, and was named team captain with ManU. He has played 15 years on the Ecuadorean national team.

Other Ecuador players to watch are former Everton forward Enner Valencia (no relation), who now plays for Tigres in Mexico; Xavier Arreaga (Seattle Sounders), Jhegson Mendez (Orlando City), Carlos Gruezo (FC Dallas) and Romario Ibarra (Minnesota United).

It is the second time in two years these two teams play in South Florida. They played to a 1-1 tie in 2017 at Florida Atlantic University.

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