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 By Nayib Moran

Enner Valencia is destined to be next great Ecuador striker in Liga MX

Valencia has been superb for Tigres since returning to Liga MX but a title would seal his sparkling season.

During his 19-year playing career, Ecuador's Agustin "Tin" Delgado played for clubs like Cruz Azul, Necaxa and Pumas. He scored Ecuador's first-ever goal in a World Cup in 2002 in a match between Mexico and Ecuador, a match that the Mexican national team went on to win 2-1.

Delgado's best era in Mexican football came with Necaxa between 1999 and 2001, a spell in which he scored 40 goals. The tall, agile striker was the first goal-machine from Ecuador that captivated Mexican football; then came Christian "Chucho" Benitez, who played for Santos Laguna and Club America, scoring 103 goals in 174 appearances. In 2013, Benitez passed away at the young age of 27. Delgado is Ecuador's all-time leading goalscorer with 31 goals and at 27, Benitez had already scored 24 for the national team.

Mexico has had the pleasure of witnessing two of Ecuador's greatest players and in this Final Regia, it's another from Ecuador, Enner Valencia, who could become a significant figure and help Tigres win their sixth Liga MX title.

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Valencia, who is a game away from finishing his second season in the league, already knows what it's like to play in a Liga MX final and be on the losing end.

After only playing one full season for Pachuca in the 2014 Clausura, he was sold to West Ham for about €15 million; at the time, his transfer was being reported as the most expensive sale by a Liga MX club. Valencia finished the 2014 Clausura with 12 goals in the regular season and six in the Liguilla. His 18 goals in the 2014 Clausura surpassed "Chucho" Benitez's 17 goals, which he scored with America in the 2013 Clausura when Miguel "Piojo" Herrera's side went on to win the league championship.

Delgado, Benitez and Valencia have something else in common: they all went to the Premier League but were unable to reach the level of fellow Ecuador international Antonio Valencia. Delgado played for Southampton in the 2002-03 season and only scored once, Benitez played for Birmingham in the 2009-10 season and scored three league goals, while Valencia played three full seasons in the Premier League -- two with West Ham and one with Everton -- but only managed to score 11 times.

On his return to Mexico, this time to play for Tigres, a club who already had a powerful attack that included Andre-Pierre Gignac, Eduardo Vargas and Ismael Sosa, Valencia's goal of securing a starting role wouldn't be easy but his arrival served as a warning of Tigres' winning intentions. The influx of talented players was continuing; in Valencia, here was a striker who put up impressive scoring numbers in his first and only Liga MX season before heading to Europe.

Valencia got a hat-trick in Tigres' 2017 Apertura and although the opponent was Puebla, a team that ended the Apertura with seven defeats, his first game this season was proof of the intentions now that he's back in Mexican football. At only 28 years old, Valencia is a player that will likely score more than 10 goals in each of the following seasons he plays for Tigres.

However, this season hasn't been easy. After that debut hat-trick, he wouldn't score another league goal until Week 6, where he got a brace against America. Afterwards, his sixth league goal came in Week 9, his seventh and eight goals came against Toluca in Week 14 and his ninth goal followed in Week 16. Valencia scored nine goals after 17 regular season games and once the Liguilla came along, manager Ricardo "Tuca" Ferretti didn't start Valencia in either of the quarterfinal matches against Leon; he would only go on to play eight of the 180 minutes.

This rotation took Valencia by surprise. "These sort of events take you by surprise, but over here we have a manager that knows a lot [about the game] and has been here for many years. He really knows how to manage a group of players," said Valencia.

"When I've had my chance to play, I always tried to give my all and when I've been on the bench, it's been the same. It's normal to show different emotions because I always want to play, but the reality is that this group is united and now we want the title," said Valencia to Univision Deportes after Tigres eliminated America in the semifinals.

After beating America 4-0 over the two-legged series, Tigres cruised into the final, with Valencia playing 176 minutes of the 180 and scoring twice.

In the first leg of the Final Regia, Valencia was one of Tigres' most active attackers. His Panenka will definitely be one of the highlights from this first-ever Monterrey Derby Liga MX final. But for Valencia, there's a noticeable desire to finally win the league after not being able to do so with Pachuca and if he achieves it on Sunday, he's likely to begin a great era of his own in Liga MX, something of which will connect his story even more to that of Delgado and Benitez.

Nayib Moran covers Liga MX and the Mexican national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @nayibmoran.

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