The MLS offseason doesn’t offer much of a break for the league’s playoff contenders – especially the teams that played in the Dec. 6 MLS Cup.
For Jorge Villafana, the starting left back for the champion Portland Timbers, that break has been especially condensed. Just days after helping the Timbers beat Columbus Crew SC in the title game, Villafana was sold to Mexican club Santos Laguna and went immediately back to work as they navigate the Liga MX season.
Villafana caught up with FutbolMLS.com to talk about his time south of the border and upcoming CONCACAF Champions League clash with LA Galaxy on Feb. 24 (10 pm ET), a team he knows all too well from his nine seasons in MLS with the Timbers and before that Chivas USA. In fact, it was only back in mid-October when Villafana helped Portland beat the Galaxy 5-2 on their StubHub Center field.
“I already have the experience of having played against the Galaxy,” said Villafana, who earned his first MLS contract with Chivas through the Sueno MLS reality TV show, in comments translated by MLSsoccer.com. “The truth is that they have great players at their club, it’s one of the great MLS teams and that [the game] is not going to be easy. We are going to be prepared to get the victory. It is going to be an important match, I already had the opportunity to go against [Steven Gerrard and Robbie Keane] last year. They are players that I’ve played against, so I know them a little, their tendencies and style of play. Therefore it is not going to be a problem.”
He’ll also be facing off with Mexico international forward Giovani dos Santos when he lines up against the Galaxy.
“One as a player never wants to lose, especially as a defender,” Villafana said. “Me as a defender, I always base myself in that, in winning, that he doesn’t take advantage of you.”
Villafana has made three starts for Santos since joining the team in early January. For Portland, he took over as the starter late in the 2014 season and emerged as a stalwart for a backline that led one of the league’s best defenses, making a career-high 33 starts last year.
He said his new teammates have shown an interest in MLS.
“Yes, yes, I’m not going to tell you the names, but there are various players that have asked how MLS is, how it works,” said Villafana. “They ask me about Los Angeles and Miami, about Kaká’s team [Orlando City SC], Seattle, the [New York] Red Bulls.”
Following Villafana’s stellar season in Portland, he was mentioned as a possible US national team call-up.
“No one [from the USMNT] has reached out,” Villafana said of a potential call-up. “I had a good year as a champion and now here at Santos they’ve also given me the opportunity to be a starter. The club is doing a good job, so the truth is that it would give me great pleasure to be called up and I would accept it.”
The 26-year-old was born in Anaheim, Calif., but spent his formative years living with family in Mexico.
“I have a great love for both countries,” he said. “I would like to get a national team call-up, because one can say, ‘I want to be there,’ but if you they don’t call you … one is open to getting a call-up.”
Villafana joined former LA Galaxy center back Omar Gonzalez as the most recent MLS players to make a move south of the border. Villafana said it’s evidence that talent, not where you were born, determine success.
“There’s always opportunity for everyone,” he said. “The players that arrive and excel, sometimes those are the foreign players, and sometimes they are Mexican. That’s what’s beautiful about soccer, that there’s always variety. For me that’s what makes soccer grow, the variety of types of players [from the different countries that they come from].”