Jorge Villafaña faced one of the biggest games of his life on Friday night. He had previously started in an MLS Cup, Liga MX play and earned his first U.S. Men’s National Team cap. He had even battled against over 2,000 other competitors to earn his first MLS contract, becoming the league’s first reality TV show hero in the process.
But make no mistake, all of Villafaña’s previous accomplishments and personal victories built towards Friday’s World Cup qualifier and, when the moment hit, the fullback passed every test that came his way.
Villafaña earned the starting left back spot on Friday night as he helped the U.S. cruise to a lopsided 6-0 win over Honduras. The win helped the U.S. reintroduce themselves to the Hexagonal race while also solidifying Villafaña’s status as a legitimate contributor as the team march’s towards Russia 2018.
Friday, in many ways, was a dream come true for a player long nicknamed “Sueño”. With his mother and several other family members seated among the Avaya Stadium crowd, Villafaña announced his arrival in his first true taste of the international game.
“I’m really happy, honored,” Villafaña said. “I couldn’t explain every piece. It was a really important game for me to be part of the qualifiers. I had to give my best and just enjoy the moment. Now I’m just enjoying this moment and I’m really happy and honored to be a part of this group.”
The Santos Laguna left back was put under a lot of pressure on Friday night. Less than two months after his international debut, he was thrown into the starting lineup for what was virtually a must-win qualifier. He was surrounded by USMNT veterans, leaving just himself and Sebastian Lletget as the lone newcomers. They were the only two looking to make their non-friendly debut, and each stepped up in a big way.
While Lletget earned plaudits for his goal before succumbing to injury, Villafaña put on a quietly solid performance. He completed all but two passes, helping connect the backline with a forward group that ran Honduras ragged.
Defensively, facing up with one of the region’s most talented players in Andy Najar, Villafaña was all but lockdown, leaving the Honduras attack stuck in the mud throughout Friday’s match. It was the performance of a veteran, one that showed poise, intelligence and the ability to read the game at this next level. Villafana’s efforts in the 2015 MLS Cup demonstrated his ability to rise on the big stage, but Friday’s effort confirmed it in a big way.
“I think I had a solid game,” Villafaña said. “There was still some room for improvement. I reviewed the game yesterday and today a little bit more and, as a group, we did a really good job on the backline and we were really connected. We have to keep doing that.”
Now, the question is what comes next. Panama is next on the horizon as the USMNT looks to build momentum from Friday’s match. It’s certainly going to be a tougher match as most away matches in CONCACAF tend to be.
Head coach Bruce Arena has options at left back, with Villafaña certainly remaining one of them. Veterans DaMarcus Beasley and Matt Besler have been a part of World Cup qualifying before, perhaps making them more qualified for a vital away match.
Regardless of who starts on Tuesday, Villafaña is proud to be an official part of the USMNT as he now looks to help the team move even further towards realizing his next dream: the 2018 World Cup.
“Coach Bruce is the one who makes decisions,” Villafaña said. “Everyone is here because people like the way you play or, like he said, everyone deserves to be here. At some point, everyone is going to have to play and step up.
“I always try to do my best whenever I get an opportunity to play. I always try to give 100 percent to show that I want to be there and deserve to play, but at the end of the day coach Bruce makes the decisions and we have to respect that. If I’m going to play or if I don’t play, I’m going to support my team. That’s part of our job too.”