Four years is a long time in football. At the start of the last CONMEBOL qualification cycle, Ecuador flew out of the blocks and looked in a good position to reach a fourth World Cup since the turn of the century. But it wasn’t to be. La Tricolor collapsed spectacularly and now find themselves in desperate need of rejuvenation.
The appointment of Hernan “Bolillo” Gomez has not filled fans with much optimism – especially after a recent 4-3 defeat to Qatar – and there are a number of issues facing the new boss. One problem position is up front, particularly after the retirement of Felipe Caicedo. Apart from Enner Valencia, there aren’t many proven goalscorers at international level to choose from and the squad is crying out for a traditional number nine.
With that in mind, could Brayan Angulo be the man to banish their woes in front of goal? Not to be confused with his Colombian namesake, Angulo was born in Guayaquil in the south of Ecuador and came up through the youth ranks of local side Rocafuerte, scoring 48 times in 86 games at junior level.
In 2013 Emelec, one of the giants of Ecuadorian football, signed him on a two-year loan. Angulo hit 17 goals for the reserve side that year and the club promptly made the signature permanent. However, it wasn’t until 2016 that Cuco made his breakthrough, scoring 10 goals in 26 appearances as Emelec finished as runners-up. Angulo kept up his form with another 13 league goals the following year, plus three in six in the Libertadores.
Now 22, Angulo has stepped it up to the next level in 2018. At the time of writing, he has bagged 20 goals in 31 league games, as well as another two in the Libertadores, to confirm his reputation as one of the top prospects in Ecuadorian football.
Here we look at what Angulo could offer to La Tricolor in more detail…
As you would expect from someone with such a good goal-scoring record, Angulo knows how to find the back of the net. Though a right-footed striker by trade, he finishes clinically off both feet, as demonstrated by his left-footed strike against Macara below.
Another feature of Angulo’s finishing is his economy of touches, usually only needing just one killer touch to sweep the ball into the net. As such, defenders have to remain switched on at all times because any lapse in concentration will be immediately punished if Angulo is given a yard of space in the box.
At the start of the year, former Emelec manager Angelo Arias said that Angulo needed to learn how to “score ugly” to become a top striker. Certainly, there seems to have been an evolution in Angulo’s style this year, with a higher quantity of goals coming in the penalty box from those trademark first-time attempts, no doubt contributing to his increased overall tally.
Angulo also thrives when playing on the shoulder of the last defender and has opportunistic ability to capitalise on defensive mistakes.
Having said that, Angulo is still capable of more spectacular strikes and his powerful shot means he can also be a threat from range. Angulo has also executed some acrobatic efforts in the past which shows his ability to score all kinds of goals.
One area that Angulo could work on his number of headed goals. As a big, strapping centre-forward with good aerial ability, you would expect him to be more dangerous with his head but, given his attributes, it is something that could easily be coached.
Fittingly for someone who plays for El Bombillo, Angulo is blessed with electric pace. His speed and acceleration allows him to get in behind defences and once in full flow, he is difficult to catch. A strong, direct and powerful runner he can also out-muscle any defender that can match him for pace.
This pace means that he can also be effective when receiving the ball in wide areas with more space to run into, as well as making him extremely dangerous for a counter attacking side. A tactic often used by Emelec has been for goalkeeper Esteban Dreer to distribute the ball quickly up-field to get pacey players such as Angulo, Preciado and Rojas running at disorganised defences.
OFF THE BALL MOVEMENT
While his pace and power might the most immediately evident qualities, it’s actually Angulo’s intelligent off-the-ball movement which make him such a deadly striker. It’s no coincidence that he often finds himself in so much space inside the penalty box and his clever movements allow him that extra yard of space to get away his aforementioned shots.
LINK UP PLAY
Aside from his phenomenal goal-scoring record, Angulo is very much a team player and is adept at bringing others into play. His strength and chest control means his back-to-goal play is excellent and as such he can operate as a traditional focal point or target man.
Angulo can also pick a pass and he has provided eight assists so far this season. Having spent time earlier in his career playing in midfield and out wide, it has given him good vision and better understanding of how to create and combine, showing he is far from just a pure penalty box.
Given the abundance of pacey wingers and wide forwards that Ecuador seems to produce, Angulo’s comfort in the target man role and ability to bring wide players into the game is another feather in his cap when it comes to discussing his suitability for a consistent run in the national team.
It’s a surprise that he hasn’t been snapped up already given his goalscoring exploits but it wouldn’t be a surprise to see move as soon as January. Emelec turned down a $7.5mil bid from the MLS, showing their confidence in just how much he is worth, but a move to the US could be a good stepping stone. Mexico has been a popular hunting ground for Ecuadorians and clubs in Spain and Holland have been rumoured to be interested too.
As for the national team, it seems that the only reason he didn’t receive a debut was due to the Clasico del Astillero clashing with the recent friendlies. It is only a matter of time before he makes his bow for La Tricolor and he could be just the type of player they need. He will face competition from the likes of Michael Estrada and rising star Stiven Plaza.
2018 has been a coming of age year for Angulo but 2019 could well be the year that he makes the next step in what looks a very exciting career. Watch this space.