New generation of female football players in Ecuador looks to promising future

The Espuce team. Source: Espuce Facebook page

The Espuce team. Source: Espuce Facebook page

Espuce is an Ecuadorian football club with over 10 years of national and international experience. The club was created by former students of the Pontifical Catholic University of Ecuador (PUCE) and by their former coach, in 2005. The student had recently graduate from college and wanted to find a space to practice the sport they love. This was their motivation to create the club.

From the beginning, the club was a men’s and women’s football team. It was one of the first formative women’s team in the city of Quito and in the country.

Back then, there were very few women’s clubs that gave so much importance and attention to their female players. Mainly because the options for women in football were limited. Women could not make a professional career of football, there wasn’t an official tournament recognized by the Ecuadorian Football Federation, and most people believe football was only a men’s sport.

As young women playing football, finding a club like Espuce was a dream come true. A club that gives equal importance to their female side, and most importantly a club that, despite the adversities mentions above, always found a way to have constant competition. Back then, futsal was very popular among club members, so women also ventured on the discipline. Just like in 11-a-side football, the women’s side of Espuce became a leader in the country.

Espuce logo. Source: Espuce Facebook page

Espuce logo. Source: Espuce Facebook page

All of the women players from Espuce were either students or had a job. Football was a passion for them and they gave everything they could to continue practicing the sport. Yet they could not be full time footballers, because they were not receiving any financial reward from this. Despite being the one of the best club and having many of the best players in the country, Espuce has not had the opportunity to call themselves a professional football team.

FIFA defines a professional player “a player who has a written contract with a club and is paid more for his footballing activity than the expenses he effectively incurs. All other players are considered to be amateurs.”

Eleven years later, this is not the case for women football players in Ecuador.

Despite this, the reality of women’s football has changed a lot in the past 10 years. Espuce is still working on discovering, developing, and promoting women’s football in the country. In 2013 an official women’s tournament was created in collaboration from the Sports Ministry and the Ecuadorian Football Federation (FEF).

As expected, Espuce has been part of this tournament since its creation. What does the mean for young player who have dreams of becoming professional football players?

A tournament recognized by official entities gives importance to the sport and the players. It also gives exposure at a domestic and international level. Each country’s football association or federation is linked to a bigger regional organization.

Related: Las Ñañas: The sisters of Ecuadorian football

In Ecuador’s case, the FEF is under CONMEBOL (The South American football governing body). For this reason, the winner of this official tournament gets a spot in the Women’s Copa Libertadores (a continental tournament organized by CONMEBOL), a tournament that is one of the most popular club tournament in the world, after the UEFA Champions League, and hosts the best clubs in the continent.

In 2015, Espuce was part of Copa Libertadores, after winning the 2014 Ecuadorian tournament.

In addition to this, women’s football has gained popularity worldwide. In Ecuador, women’s football has experienced a first of its kind boost in popularity, and media support after the 2015 FIFA World Cup.

From left to right: Football player Carina Pulla, coach Mauricio Garcia and player and member of the Ecuador National Team Merly Zambrano. Source: Espuce Facebook page

From left to right: Football player Carina Pulla, coach Mauricio Garcia and player and member of the Ecuador National Team Merly Zambrano. Source: Espuce Facebook page

Along with players from Espuce, Ecuador qualified to its first ever FIFA World Cup. This gave major international exposure to players. Many have been approached by European clubs and are seriously considering continuing their studies in the United States so they can have the opportunity to continue playing the sport they love and improving as footballers so that one day they can become professional football players.

As a football player myself, I can’t help but feel jealous about the opportunities young women footballers have nowadays in Ecuador, I wish I had the exposure and support they have. Although a lot has changed for the best, there is still a lot more that need to happen before women scan play football professionally in Ecuador. Clubs like Espuce are crucial for the development of the sport on and off the pitch. Espuce has remained constant with their values and goals towards women’s football, the club has been the foundation for many state teams and national teams.

The club has always given a space and opportunity to young women’s players to develop their talent and follow their dreams. Espuce will begin participating in the fourth edition of the nation tournament in October. As usual they aim to reach the championship match and clinch a spot in Copa Libertadores so that their players can get international experience and exposure to further develop their talents on the pitch.

Cover credit: Sergio Algeri/GYV