EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Reaching the quarterfinals of the Copa America is a historic feat for Ecuador, who reached knockout stage for the first time since 1997, following a 4-0 win over Haiti Sunday night at MetLife Stadium last weekend.

And in the middle of it all for La Tri in that decisive match was a 21-year-old midfielder from FC Dallas.

For the third time in the competition, Carlos Gruezo was given the start by coach Gustavo Quinteros and he responded with a solid performance before being replaced by Fernando Gaibor in the 79th minute.

“It is not easy in football to have opportunities like that ones they are given to me,” Gruezo said. “I am still gaining experience and confidence. I am very grateful to the coach, who gives me so much confidence.”

Now that Gruezo has found a regular spot in Ecuador’s starting XI, he doesn’t want to give it up.

“I do not want to stop being a starter in the national team,” he said. “I strive every day to keep what I now have.”

Gruezo said the confidence he has playing with Ecuador has its foundations with FC Dallas. He has been a regular starter for Dallas since being acquired in a transfer from Stuttgart in January.

Gruezo has started in all 12 matches he has appeared in this season for FCD.

“My season in FC Dallas is helping me a lot in order to have this big chance with the national team,” he said. “I have no doubts about that, I am very grateful to them as well.”

Gruezo is the only player on the Ecuador roster that competes in Major League Soccer, but he hopes that soon changes.

“My teammates in Ecuador are very aware of MLS, no doubt,” he said. “I hope that in the future many of my countrymen can join me here.”

Now Gruezo and Ecuador advance to the quarterfinals, where they will take on the United States at Seattle's CenturyLink Field Thursday night (9:30 pm ET; FS1, UniMás, UDN). It is a familiar venue and a familiar opponent for Gruezo, who was on the field in Ecuador's 1-0 loss to the US in a pre-tournament friendly at Toyota Stadium.

“Against the United States it will be a very difficult match,” Gruezo said. “We all know what happened to us when we played against them in Dallas. You have to be mentally prepared and not allow mistakes.”