Although Kevin Hartman's performance meant it wasn't the win we were all desperate to see, Chivas USA's performance Sunday against FC Dallas was much-improved and demonstrated that there may be cause for optimism yet in 2012. We all know that the team has been bad over the final third of the season, and that most of the attention will be in looking towards improving next season, but the team gave fans reason to feel like watching this team could be fun again.
Perhaps there is no player who typifies Chivas USA better than Jorge Villafana. I applauded his performance yesterday in my match report, and I really thought he was one of the best players on the field even without the goal. That he popped up and scored the goal to break the scoreless streak made his day considerably brighter, but in many ways his performance showed why Sueño is the heartbeat of Chivas USA.
I have written repeatedly in the past of the rather-astonishing fact that Villafaña is the veteran of the team, as he's been on the roster since 2007. This, and he's still only 23.
But the truth is that he is one of the only people connecting the current iteration of Chivas with the playoff teams of the past. Only Dan Kennedy, Ante Jazic and Bobby Burling have also been part of Chivas' playoff teams and are now on the roster. And the youngest player of the quartet is the one who has been around the club the longest time.
When Villafaña celebrated his goal Sunday, it was striking to see the relief and excitement from the team and the fans in the stands. It was also striking to see how the team celebrated with him. After scoring, he ran straight to Miller Bolaños and gave him a hug for providing the assist. Nick LaBrocca and James Riley ran up to the pair and hugged them to celebrate. He sent a kiss into the crowd to his family, and then Villafaña went to the sidelines and hugged the players not on the field.
Yeah, sure, players celebrate like that all the time. And while I don't want to imply there's a good or better way to celebrate goals, Chivas players, when they have scored this season, tend to do a nice hug between several teammates and then make their way to the center circle. That Villafaña hugged his teammates on and off the field and acknowledged the crowd demonstrates the connections he has to all groups, and shows the value of having players stick around more than a season or two.
The Chivas USA crowd always cheers a little harder for Mexican and Mexican-American players on the roster, and Sueño is clearly a favored son. That he straddles the lines of Mexico and the United States makes the link with the fans all the more resonant. And the fact that he won a reality TV show to get a place on the team and still has found a way to be productive for an MLS team is remarkable. It is impossible not to root for him, and the fact that he has improved each season makes it that much easier to support him.
In this video on the team's official website, he is interviewed (in Spanish), and the point where he talks about "[fighting] for pride, for the team, for the shirt" demonstrates the responsibility he feels when playing for this team, especially in front of the home fans. I think all of the players on the team are professionals and take their jobs seriously, but again, Villafaña's roots run deepest. The quiet player who has only made 12 league appearances this year, who still doesn't have a set position, who almost never garners the headlines, is the player who says what fans want to hear. 2012 won't go down as a successful season, but one late memory of the year is one of those brief moments when a single player brought Chivatown together.
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