Though Independiente del Valle would fall short of lifting the 2016 Libertadores title, they were defeated by Colombia’s Atlético Nacional 2-1 on aggregate in the final, they wrote their name in the ever growing history books of South American football.
Like many before them, IDV were a small, relatively unknown club before rapidly rising to the international stage. But unlike many others, Independiente del Valle have managed to stay relevant internationally, qualifying for the 2019 CONMEBOL Sudamericana Final, set to be played against Colón Saturday in Asunción.
Just like their counterparts in 2016, IDV’s path to the final went through a pair of South American heavy hitters. Independiente and Corinthians both fell to the Ecuadorians, making it a quartet of Libertadores winners eliminated by IDV in continental competition in just four years.
The most remarkable aspect of this sustained push for continental success might just be that IDV are doing it with a completely different group of players.
Youth development is central to what Independiente del Valle do as a club, look no further than the sustained success of many of those players from the 2016 squad, with many moving to bigger clubs in South America or abroad. No fewer than seven players in this Independiente del Valle squad are 22 years old or younger and receiving regular playing time. Away from home against Corinthians in the Sudamericana semifinals, 5 players 22 or younger, Jhon Jairo Sánchez, Alan Franco, Luis Segovia, Anthony Landázuri, and Angelo Preciado were in the initial XI, as were a pair of substitutes, Washington Corozo and Alejandro Cabeza.
By comparison, Corinthians started just a pair of players under the age of 22 in that match, and even started an IDV product, Junior Sornoza, in the return leg in Quito.
For Independiente del Valle, developing young players is about more than just football. Throughout their youth ranks, players are educated in schools by the club and taught valuable life skills as well. Club officials love to say that football is just a tool to change lives. This approach has attracted praise and recognition worldwide for the club.
But IDV don’t just rely on their youth. Independiente del Valle do an incredible job of mixing that all-important youth with experience. Manager Miguel Ángel Ramírez says that the young players, for so long a crucial aspect of what IDV does, “together with more experienced players in our squad... combine really well and we can content for important titles.”
Look no further than the aforementioned semifinal away to Corinthians. IDV started a quintet of players younger than 22 yes, but their goals were scored by a 31 year old Panamanian international with World Cup experience in Gabriel Torres. Anchoring the midfield was 37 year old Argentine Cristian Pellarano. Even Dani Nieto, a 28 year old Spaniard with La Liga experience, has appeared this Sudamericana for IDV.
That mix of youth and experience should serve the Ecuadorians well on Saturday in Asunción. They know that Colón will have the advantage of a large and vociferous group travelling supporters. But Independiente del Valle have seemingly been there and done that by this point. Whatever happens on Saturday, one thing is for certain: this isn’t the last time you’ll see Independiente del Valle on the big stage.