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Reflecting on Villafaña's International Excursion

Mar 26, 2012; Nashville, TN, USA; Villafana's grit is giving him staying power Mandatory Credit: Jim Brown-US PRESSWIRE
Mar 26, 2012; Nashville, TN, USA; Villafana's grit is giving him staying power Mandatory Credit: Jim Brown-US PRESSWIRE

Although it's only been a couple of days, and the crashing out of the United States Men's National Team U23 squad out of the CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying Tournament still hurts for USMNT fans, I wanted to find a silver lining of sorts. Would I have liked to see the U.S. in the 2012 Olympics? Of course. But the Chivas USA player involved in the squad continues to write his storybook career.

MLS is about to begin a new season of the "Sueño" program, and the results of soccer's American Idol have been decidedly mixed so far. Chivas' own Jorge Villafaña was the inaugural winner, and the only one currently on an MLS roster. The only other winner to have had some success is Rogelio Funes Mori, who plays for River Plate in Argentina, but who has his share of detractors down there. Much like the real "American Idol," perhaps the first winner of the program was the best?

Certainly, it could be argued that Villafaña has survived for so long in MLS in part because of the team he's played for. When he started with the team, they were quite good, and he worked his way into becoming a squad player. The last couple of years, his fortunes shifted dramatically. After barely playing in 2010, he played more than two-thirds of Chivas' games in 2011, having a breakout season on the left wing. While his game is still inconsistent, especially regarding his finishing, he looked to be rounding into a solid MLS pro.

But his call-up to the series of USMNT U23 training camps since last fall? That was a surprise. First was the fact that he was called in as a defender, when he didn't start as a full back at all with Chivas in 2011. Although he played as a youth international in the past, I don't think anybody thought he was on the radar for the U23 squad. And with the first training camp done, I figured he would be ignored from then on out, not because I don't think he's a decent player but because he had zero buzz associated with him. Since "youth" (hard to call U23 youth soccer, but it technically is) soccer is always about potential, and Villafaña doesn't generate any discussions about his potential, I figured the invitation to the first match was a nice cameo.

For all his skill and hard work, it might just be his resilience that is most impressive. He won a reality television show to get a spot with Chivas, after all, and the fact that no other winners of the program have made any impact on MLS shows that it is a gimmick in many respects. He quietly plied his trade with a club that gets very little press, both locally and around the league, and it seemed he carved out a niche.

But when given the chance to find a place with the Olympic Qualifying Tournament squad, he stuck with it and took advantage of a lack of personnel at left back. U23 Coach Caleb Porter kept coming back to Villafaña through all of the training camps, and our man started the last two matches of the tournament. Unfortunately, those two matches were a loss and draw, respectively, and the American dream of playing in the 2012 Olympics is gone. Villafaña showed good movement up and down the field at left back during the tournament, and his positioning was strong overall, but he was part of a backline that had major flaws and will suffer the brunt of criticism following the disaster (never mind that nobody except Joe Corona, and in the last match, Terrence Boyd and Freddy Adu, had any success on the attack in the last two matches).

As a result, do I think Villafaña will ever get a look in the senior side in the future? No. But that's what is so remarkable about his story - we would have never expected him to come this far with the national team. Although I don't think you can make the uplifting biopic without an appearance in an Olympic games or World Cup for country, or a trophy won with club, his story is very much the stuff of legend. Come on Chivas - help "sueño" reach his storybook ending, and win a trophy with him, already!

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