The legend unfolding around Jose Villarreal added a new chapter Saturday afternoon in Toronto, when the 19-year-old forward, who had been fighting a stomach virus most of the week, came off the bench to score the stoppage-time equalizer for the LA Galaxy against Toronto FC.
It was a superbly taken goal, emerging from little more than coincidence, and Villarreal's gee-whiz reaction to it range true. The Galaxy's Homegrown Player scores big goals, but he never makes a very big deal about them.
“I wouldn't say it was a good play,” Villarreal said after his scissor-kick volley handed the Galaxy a 2-2 draw with Toronto FC, leaving them as MLS' final unbeaten team. “It was a little scrap play ... just a reaction play out of me, and, honestly, I didn't close my eyes on it. I saw it all the way. I'm just happy to be able to help out the team.”
Villarreal scored a sizzling equalizer in the 87th minute of the Galaxy's 2-2 draw with the Vancouver Whitecaps last July in just his second MLS appearance, and netted a near duplicate for the vital second goal in LA's CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal decider against Herediano earlier this month.
Galaxy coach Bruce Arena thinks enough of Villarreal that he inserted the forward from Inglewood (just a few miles from the Home Depot Center) into his starting lineup as soon as he returned from the CONCACAF U-20 Championship, even after he missed nearly all of preseason.
“It was a great goal, and he's good in the penalty area, as demonstrated by his goal,” Arena said. “He's a good young player. We need a little more consistency out of him.”
Villarreal probably deserved at least a couple of goals the week before in a victory over the Colorado Rapids. That consistency is coming, but the quality already is here. It was most evident at the finish.
Omar Gonzalez sent in a cross from the right wing into the box, and Toronto defender Darel Russell, who had position on Mike Magee, got his head to it. Rather than clearing the ball, he sent it back into the middle. Villarreal, just beyond the 6-yard box, quickly made space for himself as he watched the ball fall, then threw himself at it, connecting with his favored left foot and sending it inside the left post.
“We needed a goal, and if it was me or Landon [Donovan] or someone else who put one in, we had to do it one way or another,” Villarreal said. “I’m just happy to be able to help out the team.”
Donovan, who made his season debut Saturday and shanked a should-score opportunity moments after coming on, wasn't surprised Villarreal played hero.
“He makes plays,” Donovan said. “And at any level anywhere in the world, players who can make plays are commodities. You could see it today. He gets a couple of chances where he makes good passes to guys, and he gets one chance to finish and he scores. That's what you want out of your forwards and your goalscorers, and he won another point for us.”