NEW YORK — While the star striker based just west of the Hudson River has made serious noise in the race for the MLS MVP award in recent weeks, it was the one based to the east that bolstered his chances of winning that piece of hardware on Friday.
All while helping his club move to within an inch of a playoff spot.
New York City FC steamrolled the Chicago Fire at Yankee Stadium on Friday night, and it was prolific forward David Villa who led the the charge in the 4-1 victory. Villa bagged a brace and had an assist in the Eastern Conference bout, as he used his skill and savvy to terrorize the Fire defenders over the course of the 90 minutes.
The Spaniard’s impressive performance saw him bounce back from a pair of subpar showings, which came in games that NYCFC not coincidentally failed to win. It also raised his season totals to 19 goals and three assists, which are figures that have NYCFC on the brink of reaching the postseason and that make him as solid a candidate for the MLS MVP honor as New York Red Bulls forward Bradley Wright-Phillips or Toronto FC ace Sebastian Giovinco.
“When he’s playing like that, nobody can stop him,” said NYCFC head coach Patrick Vieira of Villa after the win over the Fire. “From the first minute, the way that he’s closing people down, that way he’s fighting. He’s the captain of the team, he’s the leader of the team. I think tonight’s performance was one of the best I’ve seen of him so far.
“When we have a David like tonight, we are really on a different level.”
Even when he is not as sharp or active as he was against the overmatched Fire, the 34-year-old Villa tends to be one of the more lethal players when he is on the field. He showed that in his debut MLS season in 2015 by scoring 18 goals and delivering eight assists, numbers that accounted for more than half of NYCFC’s 49 goals scored, and again this year with his strong and steady play.
In fact, Villa’s consistency has been one of his more impressive traits. He has helped transform NYCFC from a struggling expansion club to a strong contender in the East with games like Friday’s, which saw him score early and late, set up a needed insurance goal, and fight tooth and nail even when the result was no longer in question.
“I always try to give my best,” said Villa. “There’s bad days. Obviously, the last couple of games weren’t good for me. I didn’t do well. Today I was good again, but I always try to do my best on the field and if I can be an example for the youngsters even better.
“That’s what’s helped me accomplish everything that I have done in my career, and now isn’t the time to change that.”
The veteran’s headline-grabbing shift started with his first goal nine minutes in. It gave NYCFC a 2-0 lead at the time, but the Fire pulled one back later in the first half to make things interesting again. Villa then helped make a difference by feeding Stiven Mendoza, who did plenty of the work himself by hitting a jaw-dropping curler just before halftime.
With the lead at 3-1, Villa could have eased off after the intermission. Some players do in that situation. He didn’t.
Villa relentlessly continued to attack the goal, nearly scoring a second with a header that was denied by the crossbar and setting up Khiry Shelton with a neatly flicked pass that led to a chance from a tight angle that was saved by Fire goalkeeper Sean Johnson.
Villa refused to be denied of at least one more goal, though, and netted the game’s final tally in the 83rd minute with a nice heel chop and bender to the far post.
That play underlined NYCFC’s stellar showing, and Villa’s superb quality, driven mentality, and overall dependability. All attributes that would be befitting of an MLS MVP.
“It would be nice for the club. Obviously for me, too,” said Villa of winning the award. “I’m always thinking the same in my career: The best you can do on the pitch is good for the team. When the team is good, individually the players is good.”