Note: The following is an old article posted on a previous WordPress site created by me. It’s being reposted here for archiving purposes and is hugely out of date.
The new Vinotinto roster is out and about and Rafael Dudamel’s choices will determine whether or not the national team performs well in the 2019 Copa America and the qualifiers for the 2022 Qatar World Cup (and maybe that World Cup as well). With excitement in the air I figured this would be a great topic to put together a quick review of his choices along with my thoughts on where he went right and where he might have gone wrong, or at least not right in an obvious way.
Here’s the official roster graphic via la Vinotinto’s social media:
Venezuela’s first choice goalkeeper will be, as expected, Wuilker Fariñez. The 20 year old wonder kid already has seven appearances for la Vinotinto (and another 16 for the U20’s) and has recently made a big move to Millonarios in Colombia as he looks to improve his club level resume. He’s a good keeper who will without a doubt be better in the coming years when these tournaments start to take place. While his time at Millonarios has had ups and downs, he’s done well in continental competitions and decent in the league, especially considering he’d never played at such a level before.
Pros and cons aside, Fariñez cemented his spot as starter long ago with his 2017 U20 World Cup run (in which he conceded zero goals in the group stage and eventually won second place) and his run of senior squad appearances toward the end of the last world cup’s qualifiers in which he played Colombia, Argentina, Uruguay, and Paraguay, and only conceded one goal through the run of four games. That one goal was an own goal.
As far as backup keepers goRafael Romois a decent option. Owned by Cyprus legends Apoel, he spent last season playing in the Belgian Second Division, losing in the promotion playoff final. With few other stand out options (the retired classic Dani Hernandez or perhaps Jose Contreras, who is at Chateauroux in Ligue 2), Romo is a decent option that Dudamel will hope to not have to use at all.
Let’s start with center backs. The two starters will likely be Jhon Chancellorand Wilker Ángel. Both have seen national team action before (6 and 17 appearances respectively) and both currently play in the Russian Premier League (with Anzhi and Grozny respectively). Both have had tough, mid to low table seasons recently, with Ángel having the better time playing in an all around better squad. Regardless, both are solid options who played as the CB pairing through several of Venezuela’s last 2018 WC qualifiers. Their current clubs aren’t exactly shining highlights of the football world but la Vinotinto have often gotten their best performances from good players playing for low profile clubs.
The back up CB’s are Nahuel Ferraresi, who plays at Peralada in the Spanish Third Tier on loan from Torque in Uruguay, and Yordan Osorio, who plays at Vitória Guimarães on loan from FC Porto. Both are interesting and young choices with not much experience but plenty of potential. Ferraresi was a key part of the U20 World Cup side and Osorio has seen a couple first team appearances with la Vinotinto as a sub in international friendlies. Neither stand out as strong enough to usurp their elders for a starting spot but neither seem bad as bench options. Alejandro Fuenmayor from the Houston Dynamo may have been another decent youth option but I actually think Dudamel’s got it right here. As for another key but missing center back, Mikel Villanueva, check the MIA portion at the end.
Now on to fullbacks. We have Rolf Feltscher, Luis Mago, Ronald Hernández, and Alexander González. Feltscher, sometimes known more for his hair and looks than his football, is a solid carry over from recent tournaments. The journeyman now calls the LA Galaxy home, though he’s missed much of the season with injury. When healthy he’s a reliable cog and it’s fair to say he’s earned another shot.
Hernandez is a similar story, though he calls Stabæk home at the moment. He was a crucial part of the U20 World Cup side and brings youth to our fullback options without sacrificing experience. His club is struggling a bit right now but his return after some U20 play seems to have brought energy back to the Norwegian side. It’s worth noting that the only of our last four qualifiers that we won (though all were positive results) was Paraguay, which was the only of the four he started.
González is a sort of veteran for la Vinotinto (with 43 appearances), sporting a long history of club play at various levels and nations. He’s played at Young Boy, FC Thun, and was part of the SD Huesca side that promoted the tiny club to La Liga for the first time last season. He’s since moved on to Elche back in Liga 123. He’s a reliable talent and sort of fits into the ranks of Rincon or Rondon in the sense that he’s been there a long time and knows what he’s doing. Hernandez might end up having the upper hand on him but his ability to transfer to between the midfield and defense (he plays as a midfielder at the club much of the time) might earn him playtime.
Luis Mago is a bit of an unknown, in that there’s virtually nothing to find about him anywhere. He plays as a left back at Carabobo FC and, at the age of 23, has no international experience to speak of. He’ll be a bench option for sure and maybe this will be his chance to prove himself. Worst case he’ll apply pressure on Feltscher to stay focused.
Note: This tweet chain, containing a quote from Dudamel himself, suggests that Mago will be used as a back up for Feltscher at LB while Hernandez and Gonzalez take care of RB. It also mentions other options considered for the positions (Bernardo Ańor, Robert Quijada, and Eduin Quero):
The midfield may very well be the most interesting section of the new roster. First let’s tackle the two main defensive midfielders named in the squad, Tomas Rincónand Júnior Moreno. It wouldn’t be a huge surprise if both these guys start and play together (mostly depending on formation as Dudamel has tried a variety over the last year). They both have experience and in general are just damn good at what they do. Rincon brings a ton of experience to this team as one of the few Venezuelans in the world that can claim almost ten years of top flight and top league European experience (played for Hamburg in the Bundesliga, Genoa, Juventus, and Torino in Serie A). He’s not a goal scorer in any sense of the word (five league goals in his whole career and zero national team goals) but he’s a perfect midfield bully and his reliable nature will continue to be key even as he ages. Moreno has also been a strong option for DC United this year and has become a key part of the team post-Rooney’s move to MLS. His positive form as of late should be exciting to see transfer over to a Vinotinto side desperate for midfield control.
The next chunk of the roster is a series of expected attacking midfield talents that will be key to la Vinotinto’s success. I consider Sergio Córdova, Jhon Murillo, Rómulo Otero, Yeferson Sotelo, and Darwin Machisto be the members of this group. Córdova and Soteldo are straight from the famous U20 side, where they thrashed nation after nation, while Machis and Murillo are on the young side but slightly more experienced. Otero is by far the veteran of the bunch despite only being 25. His 26 appearances and diverse club experience have made him key to the squad as a starter and a sub in the past.
Córdova, Murillo, and Machis are by far the three I think everyone should look out for. All three contributed greatly to the last chunk of 2018 WC qualifiers (Murillo going as far as to score against Argentina) and have now had more time in Europe to develop their skills. Córdova had a decent debut season for Augsburg in the Bundesliga last year with two goals in 26 appearances (almost all of which were substations. Machis seems to be starting strong at his new home in Udinese, were he’s scored several times in friendlies and the Coppa Italia. Murillo has bounce around club wise but seems to continue to develop his scoring and passing ability in a healthy manner. All three also stand out as midfielders who can easily convert into a striker position, a skill they’ve shown at the club level as of late.
Finally we arrive at the slight eyebrow raisers, of which I refer to Agnel Flores, Ronaldo Lucena, and Eduard Bello. Bello is an interesting pick with no international experience, but the 22 year old made waves when he earned 8 goals and 3 assists in 19 appearances for Chilean club Antofagasta in 2018. He’ll likely have to fight for minutes but the call up could be a strong opportunity for him to make his name known.
Agnel Flores, with 14 national team appearances under his belt already, is a mild but reliable journeyman who’s spent his whole career bouncing around the Venezuelan first division. Currently at Monagas, Flores isn’t the most exciting part of the roster but doesn’t bring any need for concern either.
Lucena is a bit of a question mark for me, especially when paired with the absence of certain other midfield options like Savarino, Peñaranda, or Añor. Lucena was part of the accomplished U20 side but is recently coming off a failed stint at Atletico Nacional that ended with him returning to Venezuela (with Tachira) with only five appearances to show for his efforts. While Bello might be as random a pick as Lucena, Bello has a strong recent club history to back up his call up, while Lucena simply doesn’t. He’ll have a lot to prove assuming he can get solid minutes when competing with the likes of this roster.
So let’s start off the forward discussion with the two obvious choices: Salomón Rondónand Josef Martínez. Rondón has recently made a loan move to Newcastle that will guarantee him more time in the premier league while West Brom try to play their way back up via promotion. The loan will ensure he’s playing top level football as he prepares for the world’s stage but I doubt it actually has much to do with his call up to la Vinotinto. In fact he could be playing in just about any nation or division and still compete for this spot. Rondón is a core piece of this team both as a player and as a symbol. A tough underdog more than anything else, Rondón will help keep experience in a team that is otherwise mostly throwing youth at its challenges. Like Rincón, he’s a classic Venezuelan footballer; tough, bold, and willing to use quick thinking and strength to stay on par with otherwise higher class players.
Martínez, the man lighting MLS on fire, is also one of the least surprising and most logical parts of this list. He plays a fancier game than Rondón but still fits the same mentality when it comes to fighting the good fight and not caring about odds. His club form is out of this world and if he can muster even 50% of it for the national team he could solely earn la Vinotinto multiple glories over the next four years. He’s also on the verge of breaking the MLS season scoring record and has already broken the MLS career hat trick record. At 25, he’ll also provide a good learn term option as he’ll be a peak 29 years old in 2022 while the likes of Rondón will be in their early to mid 30’s.
As far as backup strikers go, Dudamel has brought in Christian Santosand, somewhat surprisingly, Fernando Aristeguieta. Santos is a decent pick and his twelve appearances for the national team reflect his past in this role of “backup striker”. Having spent his career going from respectable stint to respectable stint in the likes of Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Spain, Santos will give Dudamel an escape door if injuries or red cards strike. Santos is currently with injury but is expected to start playing with Deportivo de la Coruña in the next couple weeks.
Fernando Aristeguieta, nickname “el colorado” because he well… looks Irish, makes a sudden comeback appearance in the national team roster as well. At only 26 years of age, Fernando has a lived a well traveled life, playing everywhere from Portugal to Philadelphia and France, his recent move out of Caracas to América de Cali has triggered new interest in the Venezuelan’s career (he started his time at his new club quite dramatically by scoring twice but missing a penalty in a Copa Aguila victory against Leones only days after his signing). A few good substitution appearances for the national team could earn a new level of attention for a man who’s often existed in the respectable shadows of other Venezuelan forwards.
Some Notable MIA’s:
Juanpi– A strong option on the wing and only 24 years of age, Juan Añor is a strong attacking option for la Vinotinto. His absence from the roster could be connected to a few things. One being that Juanpi was part of the 2017-2018 Malaga side that finished last with a 5-5-28 record and is now in Liga 123. That side was properly bad and Añor didn’t help the list of problems. It also seems Añor is trying to leave the club and has had some options but is currently in free fall as he is with Malaga but not playing in their squad in preseason or regular season matches.
Adalberto Peñaranda– Peñaranda is a similar case to Añor in that he spent 17-18 on loan to Malaga and failed to consistently help his side. He was a stand out piece in the U20’s but seems to have trouble at the club level. He is owned by Watford and is with their squad but hasn’t played due to a vague visa issue. If his visa situation gets fixed and he gets some games I could see him finding his way into the roster by next summer.
Yangel Herrera– Herrera is a booming young defensive midfielder from the U20 side that scored the senior team’s winning goal against Paraguay in the final 2018 WC Qualifier. He’s also been a key piece for MLS side New York City FC. He also, however, had a season ending injury earlier this year and would likely not be able to play in 2018, thus his absence from this roster makes sense. If his recovery goes well I see him replacing one of the question marks in the midfield.
Rubert Quijada– Quijada saw action with the national team toward in 2017 and showed promise but finds himself on the losing side of the battle for fullback spots. He was mentioned in the Dudamel tweet above meaning he could still have chance. After over 100 games for Caracas FC, he was loaned out to Qatar and had a strong season, finishing in 4th place with 19 appearances and a goal to his name.
Roberto Rosales – Rosales was also part of that not so great Malaga side. He’s on the older side at 29 but the fullback could by all means stand up for himself against the younger options Dudamel has gathered. The biggest issue is he’s a right back, a position la Vinotinto have many good options in. He’s still at Malaga but moves to Getafe and Betis have been rumored.
Mikel Villanueva– Villanueva’s absence from the defensive list is a strange one, as Dudamel had used him as a first choice CB for much of the later chunk of the 2018 WC Qualifiers. Whatever the reason, his absence will give more room for Chancellor and Angel to dominate the positions and allow younger options a shot. He is owned by Malaga (because Malaga is just the Venezuelan national team I guess) but spent last year at Cadiz and is now on loan at Reus (both in Liga 123). It’s worth noting Reus lost their first league game with Villanueva as a starter, but received a head injury in the first half, meaning his September plans would probably be taken up anyways.
Jefferson Savarino– If I had to pick one missing name that truly shocked me, it would be Savarino. The youngster has 9 goals and 11 assists in 46 games for Real Salt Lake in MLS and has been a shining light for that time through thick and thin. He has national team experience with a few ages groups (only one senior appearance). He’s a smart and selfless player in every sense of those words… and he’s not on the list. I’m not sure what to think of it, but it puts pressure on some of those midfield question marks to prove they should be there in front of him.
Note: A Venezuelan sports news group did a poll with 259 responses asking who’s absence drew the most attention. Savarino won it with 38% of the vote.
The squad Dudamel used toward the end of the 2018 qualifiers was a solid one, going undefeated against 4 strong opponents (Colombia, Uruguay, Paraguay, and Argentina) and getting 6 points with three clean sheets. It did however have its problems. Solid defense and a little luck was often paired with a sleepy midfield and poor finishing. A little more experience for the youngsters and the adjustments made by Dudamel will hopefully target those weaknesses and make la Vinotinto a serious contender in both the 2019 Copa America and the Qatar qualifiers.
The roster is very much a pre-tournament roster. It’s about 60% obvious choices, 20% confident experimenting, and 20% questionable experimenting. I think it’s a group that can do well in the upcoming friendlies against Colombia and Panama, but I strongly feel some changes should be made before 2019 comes along.
I’m excited for veterans like Rincon and Rondon, but maybe more excited to see how youngsters like Cordova, Farinez, and Murillo hold up. We play Colombia on the 7th of September and Panama on the 11th. Until then, we wait.