Teenager Villarreal provides key spark for the Galaxy

JoseVillarreal (ISIPhotos.com)

Photo by Dave Bernal/ISIPhotos.com

BY KAYLA KNAPP

CARSON, Calif.—It has been a wild eight months for rookie Los Angeles Galaxy midfielder Jose Villarreal.

Since signing a Homegrown contract at the end of 2011, the 18-year-old California native has spent the majority of his playing time in the reserve league, but lately, that has been changing.

Villarreal made his debut with the first team on July 14th in the final minute of the match. It was just a taste of what was to come for the young striker.

In his second appearance for LA on July 18th against Vancouver Whitecaps, Villarreal scored his first goal for the Galaxy in the 85th minute—but this wasn’t just a goal. This was a late, game-tying goal that stole a crucial point for LA as they made their run up the standings to a playoff position.

Villarreal only needed two games—and in reality, less than 10 first team minutes—to make an impact. But he hasn’t stopped there. He has made an appearance in five of the last six league games, and whether it’s a few minutes or 30, the teenager has provided a spark for LA.

“He’s crafty, he’s a gamer and he’s a young kid that doesn’t know any better and that’s great because he’s confident and he’s playing well and he’s dangerous,” defender Todd Dunivant said of Villarreal. “He’s holding the ball up, not just doing the obvious things like scoring goals, he’s doing the little things and that’s huge for us.”

While he has clearly made an impact when given the opportunity, Villarreal knows his minutes on the pitch are precious.

”When Bruce gives me the chance to play, I just do my thing and try to help out as much as possible,” he said.

On Sunday afternoon, Villarreal was given one of those chances with about 30 minutes to play in a tough battle against FC Dallas, with the score still level at 0-0. Neither side had been able to break through, and LA needed that offensive spark to get past a strong Dallas defense.

And yet again, less than ten minutes after coming onto the pitch, Villarreal made a game-changing play.

In the 66th minute, FC Dallas defender Matt Hedges took just a little too long to get his pass off, and Villarreal stripped him of the ball. Dallas keeper Kevin Hartman was forced to come way off his line to try to stop him, but Villarreal went past him with ease, and found Juninho wide open in the middle of the box, and the Brazilian finished calmly into the back of the net.

“I managed to pressure him [Hedges] pretty hard and it bounced off my foot and I took a touch right by the keeper and I saw Juninho in the open and I just passed it him,” Villarreal said of his assist after the game. “Obviously, the nerves kick in, but you need to be focused and finish the play.”

That goal broke the deadlock, and gave LA a 1-0 lead. The Galaxy would go on to win 2-0, with defender Todd Dunivant adding the second, but it was the opening goal, assisted by Villarreal that made the difference.

“He came with a lot of energy, he’s proven right now that he’s a kid that has a lot of talent, and he came in, changed the game,” Juninho said of Villarreal after the match.

“Jose was outstanding. A really alert play that helped set up the first goal,” head coach Bruce Arena said of Villarreal’s heads-up move that lead to the eventual game-winner.

Even Dallas head coach Schellas Hyndman had praise for the teenager.

“He’s very active. He’s got a desire to get forward…he brought a lot of energy, and at that point in time, were trying to get a goal,” Hyndman said.

As LA’s focus shifts to their midweek CONCACAF Champions League match against the Puerto Rico Islanders, there is the potential for Villarreal to see even more minutes. Robbie Keane is suspended because of his red card in the Galaxy’s previous CCL match, and Landon Donovan’s status is up in the air as he continues to recover from a hamstring injury.

“It’s unfortunate about Landon and Robbie, they’re two players that we need out there on the field but if they’re not available then other players need to step up and do the work,” Villarreal said.

Wednesday’s CCL match would be a good opportunity to see Villarreal get more first team minutes. But regardless of whether that happens, one thing is clear: he is making his mark on this team, his coaches and teammates are excited by his potential, and Villarreal seems like he is enjoying this new role.

“My teammates are always in the back of me and supporting me and that makes me a lot more comfortable when I step on the pitch and I’m able to do what I do best and help out the team," Villarreal said after Sunday’s win. "I grew up here, I always came to watch the games when I was small, so now that I have a chance to play here…I think I belong here."

This entry was posted in MLS- LA Galaxy. Bookmark the permalink.

19 Responses to Teenager Villarreal provides key spark for the Galaxy

  1. wildchild says:

    Cap him!

  2. Gnarls says:

    “I grew up here, I always came to watch the games when I was small, so now that I have a chance to play here…I think I belong here.”

    Kid is living the dream and making LA proud!

  3. Dinho says:

    love it! Go Pats!

  4. john.q says:

    it’s coming. the generation that grew up with MLS and have drawn some benefit from club academy’s. the more MLS and those academies mature the more Villarreal’s we will see. future’s bright for the USMNT!

  5. Lorenzo says:

    USMNT and US Soccer. When you think of spain and netherlands you think of Madrid, Barca, Atletico, Ajax, PSV, etc. Same with other countries. You think about the type of quality players that come out of Brazil, Holland, Portugal, etc.

    We want the national team to be great, yes- that is our favorite team- but we want the whole thing we do here to be respected and admired.

  6. jlm says:

    would be interesting to see a list of the top 5 or 10 homegrown players with their contributions…

  7. soccerhorn says:

    I am looking forward to all the haters talking about how the Homegrown Villareal is further proof of an MLS conspiracy to help the Galaxy win every year.

  8. Lost in Space says:

    Nice to see a young player with talent have success, but keep a level head. I wish him the best and hope he continues to perform well with the Galaxy and the U-20 US National Team.

  9. Good Jeremy says:

    Agreed. Do I smell an Ives column coming?

  10. travis says:

    Check the Soccer America homepage for a complete list of homegrown players with total minutes played and goals/assists.

  11. martha says:

    Tristen Bowen II

  12. beachbum says:

    would like to read that too ;)

  13. beachbum says:

    hey Kayla, are you related to Gwen Knapp from the Chronicle per chance? just curious.

    thanks for the article on the kid

  14. Herb says:

    Bowen had/has talent, but never came in and made an instant impact.

  15. Fred says:

    Yep, this is just the beginning

  16. Gregorio says:

    I don’t think you can count on such a young player to be your only spark off the bench. LA still lacks depth for later rounds of CCL.

  17. PD says:

    Yep. CAP HIM. And Luis Gil.

  18. JK says:

    I’d cap that column.

  19. Gnarls says:

    I think LA can count on Jose V, but they can’t SOLELY rely on him.

    You’re right, they need more depth; and that’s the rub. The MLS cap system inhibits teams from deepening their rosters for multiple competitions. I would like to see a change to the cap rules where CCL teams are allowed greater financial flexibility. It’d benefit the league in the long run.