FRISCO, Texas — Three months ago, FC Dallas midfielder Ricardo Villar was nowhere to be seen in head coach Schellas Hyndman’s rotation. Nowadays, the 32-year-old Brazilian is such a vital cog to the team’s success, Hyndman can’t take him off the field.
After appearing in only four of FCD’s first 12 games, the seasoned veteran of the Austrian, Asian, Greek and German leagues has made 11 straight starts in all competitions and demonstrated a deft touch on the ball as well as a creative mind in various parts of the pitch.
“I think he started to understand his job description,” said Hyndman of Villar’s early struggles, “and then I think he started developing the fitness level to do that job I was asking him to do.”
Since starting against D.C. United in July, Villar has provided the team with a steady diet of creative flicks, sound passing and sharp dribbling in small spaces.
He is also often seen hustling after loose balls deep into matches and has helped the team on corner kicks and set pieces around the opposing team’s 18-yard box, even scoring a beauty on a set piece and dishing out an assist against Orlando City in the third round of the US Open Cup.
Hyndman wouldn’t say Villar is the most match fit of any player on the team, but he did credit him for the strides taken in recent months.
“I think he’s probably the most improved,” Hyndman said. “It’s not only his fitness level, but his mental strength is now accepting the role and accepting that, ‘If I want to play 90 minutes, I have to keep it at this level.'”
The turnaround for Villar might have come in mid-May, when he and Hyndman had a lengthy conversation after a training session on the Pizza Hut Park grounds. The two talked for nearly 15 minutes and, while details weren’t unveiled from the discussion, Villar said a preseason injury was part of the issue holding him back.
“I missed the whole process of getting in shape at the beginning and had to catch up,” he acknowledged. “I was kind of thrown in there and didn’t correspond to my abilities. The reserve games helped me to get some playing time and I guess they saw that I was sort of evolving and getting more fit.”
Another struggle many foreign players have in MLS is adjusting to the physicality of the league, but Villar — a former Penn State player under current FCD technical director Barry Gorman — had already seen many of the league’s characteristics from his collegiate and overseas experiences.
Something Villar had rarely experienced in his well-traveled career, however, was a close-knit team like FC Dallas.
“I haven’t been on many teams like this where everybody gets along on and off the field and fights for each other,” he said. “I’ve played for a lot of teams that I wish I didn’t play for. You get to the chemistry and the locker room is all wrong or there will be problems with the foreigners.
“It’s a very good team that has a chemistry that is hard to find. Here everybody follows the same plan — you either stick to it or you’re not a part of it.”
Robert Casner covers FC Dallas for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached on Twitter: @robertmcasner