DRV PNK Stadium was awash in yellow on Saturday night as the World Cup-bound Ecuadorean national team played a friendly against Cape Verde, an African island nation appearing on U.S. soil for the first time.
Ecuador took a 1-0 lead in the 38th minute on a Jordy Caicedo penalty kick and held on for the victory. It was the third game on Ecuador’s U.S. tour. They beat Nigeria 1-0 and tied Mexico 0-0.
“This was a positive tour for us not because of the results, but because we were able to unite for the first time since World Cup qualifying ended and begin to prepare for the World Cup,” said Ecuador coach Gustavo Alfaro. “I was using this tour to evaluate the team, to decide what we have and what we still need to improve. We had physical opponents in Nigeria and Cape Verde and went 50-50 with Mexico. We also had a chance to rotate players and give a lot of players minutes.”
Even before Saturday’s game began, Ecuador’s coaches, players and fans were in a celebratory mood. On Friday, the FIFA Disciplinary Committee dismissed Chile’s case against the Ecuadorean federation that claimed right back Byron Castillo was born in Colombia, not Ecuador, and had falsified his documents, which would make him ineligible for COMENBOL qualifiers for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.
If the case had held up, Ecuador would have been forced to forfeit the eight games that Castillo appeared in. That would have dropped Ecuador out of the World Cup and Chile would have moved up and earned a spot.
Chilean team lawyers alleged that Castillo was born in Tumaco, Colombia, in 1995. But the player’s records show that he was born in 1998 in General Villamil, Ecuador, and FIFA ruled in Ecuador’s favor. Castillo was in the Starting XI for Saturday’s match.
Ecuadorean forward Leo Campana, Inter Miami’s leading scorer with seven MLS goals and eight including U.S. Open Cup, came off the bench in the 61st minute to the delight of the fans who had been calling for him since the start of the second half.
Campana, feeling at home at DRV PNK Stadium, replaced Caicedo. He got a look at the goal a few minutes later, but his shot sailed over the crossbar.
Campana got the national team call-up after 10 months being left off the roster. He had struggled to break into the lineup with English Premier League team Wolves, came to Inter Miami on loan and has been one of the top scorers in Major League Soccer this season.
The crowd of 4,950 was almost entirely made up of Ecuador fans, who sang and waved yellow, blue and red flags. After the final whistle, Alfaro and his players walked across the field and thanked their fans.
“That was a beautiful thing, to see so many proud Ecuadoreans in New Jersey, Chicago and in Miami,” Alfaro said. “They came to see us at the hotels and told us how far they had traveled to see us. I told my players to realize how important this team is to all those people, how much it means to them to sing the anthem and watch us play. We have a major obligation not to disappoint them.”
Among the few Cape Verde fans in the audience was Luis Barbosa, a 33-year-old who flew in from Boston for the game and sat in the first row. He was born in Cape Verde and moved to the United States 10 years ago.
“I am so happy and proud to be here watching the Cape Verde national team because I have never been able to see them in person,” Barbosa said. “When I heard they are playing in Fort Lauderdale, I bought my plane ticket. This is a big moment for them to play in the United States.”
Ecuador outshot Cape Verde 13-2 and dominated possession 61 percent to 39 percent. Although the humidity and Cape Verde’s size and physicality presented unforeseen challenges for Ecuador, Alfaro said he told his players they have to adjust and win uncomfortable games.
Cape Verde coach Pedro Brito said he was proud of his team for giving South America’s fourth-place team a tough game. “In my mind Ecuador is one of the best teams in South America, so more important for us than the result was evaluating five or six players who were playing with us for the first time. We learned a lot.”
Ecuador will play host Qatar, Senegal, and the Netherlands at the World Cup. Their opening match vs. Qatar is on Nov. 21.
This story was originally published June 11, 2022 11:19 PM.