Located in the heart of the Venezuelan Andes sits the city of Mérida, the capital of the state of Mérida. Home to more than 200,000 people, it is one of the largest cities in Venezuela and the most scenic.
Mérida is nestled in a large valley of the Chama River, which sits at an altitude of 5,200 feet. Mérida is home to the University of the Andes and the Archdiocese of Mérida, two of the largest universities in the country. Mérida is also home to the largest and longest cable car system in the world, along with its beautiful views of the Andes, making it one of the biggest tourist destinations in Venezuela.
The club that calls the city home is Estudiantes de Mérida. Founded in 1971 by the students of the city, the club started playing in the junior championships of Venezuela. Estudiantes found initial success in the first two seasons at the amateur level and interest grew around the town to bring professional football to Venezuela’s premier tourist destination.
Joint public efforts between the president of the University of Los Andes, Pedro Rincón Gutiérrez and Dr. Briceno Ferrigni, the Governor of the state of Merida brought professional soccer to the city. Around the same time, improvements were made by the Venezuelan football authorities to improve sporting infrastructure in Mérida. Estadio Guillermo Soto Rosa, which was built in the 1970’s was home to Estudiantes de Mérida from 1971-2005 before Estudiantes moved into the Estadio Metropolitano de Mérida, which was built for the 2007 Copa America. The arena holds 42,200 and is one of the largest in Venezuela but attendances for their home games are far from the capacity due to the lack of interest in the Venezuelan domestic league and the country’s love affair with baseball, which eclipses soccer.
Estudiantes de Mérida’s colors are red and white, in honor of the Colegio San José de Mérida, home to some of the many students who promoted the club in its early years. The uniforms and crest are very similar to that of Athletic Bilbao in Spain.
In terms of professional success, Estudiantes has won two Venezuelan championships coming in 1980 and 1985 and three Venezuelan Cups coming in 1970, 1971, and 1985. Estudiantes has participated in the Copa Libertadores seven times, with their best success coming in 1999 when they reached the quarter-finals. Since then success has become hard to come for the club who not so long ago was relegated to the second division for a season before coming up after the league expanded from 10 to 18 teams in 2007.
Estudiantes isn’t the most successful club in Venezuela and they do not have the biggest fan base but what makes the club strong is its humble beginnings and its continued connection with the students and citizens of Mérida.