I’m not going to claim to be objective about Villa. I’m a fan of El Guaje, always will be. He lives in the part of my soccer heart reserved for players I respect as both professionals and people. I’ve happily spent my own money and time, riding the 4 train to the Bronx, to watch him play.
I wish it didn’t have to end like this. Nor, I suspect, do the club’s supporters. It’s not the sendoff Villa likely wanted after four years serving as club’s first captain, on-field talisman and smiling public face. In my fan-fiction version of the end (and probably his), Villa finishes his career in New York blue, ideally with a trophy lift, confetti shower and maybe even a ticker-tape parade down 5th Avenue. Instead, Villa’s stint in New York, the second-longest stop of his illustrious career, ended quietly, with another early playoff exit.
“My experience here was amazing. It gave me everything as a soccer player, as a person, and as a family man,” Villa said, ever gracious, in a statement. “I’ll always remember this experience with love. My heart is here and I’m an NYCFC supporter forever.”
Let’s remember the way he made it clear from Day 1 that MLS was his one and only focus, a Designated Player who never succumbed to distractions. Let’s remember the goals, all 77 of them, from the midfield prayer to the tap-ins. Let’s remember the way he led an expansion club through the uncertainty of a rough first season to Supporters’ Shield contention and MLS Cup dreams.
Most of all, let’s remember the way treated other people and how hard he competed, an example every young player can take to heart.
No, Villa wasn’t at his best in 2018, injuries limiting him to 14 goals and five assists in 23 games (a goal and assist total that matched Best XI honoree Wayne Rooney), but you can’t talk about the best players in MLS history without mentioning his name. Here’s where he stands among his MLS peers over the past four years:
- Goals: 77 (2nd to Bradley Wright-Phillips)
- Goals + Assists: 103 (2nd to Sebastian Giovinco)
- Shots: 540 (2nd to Giovinco)
- Shots on Goal: 229 (2nd to Giovinco)
Those numbers speak for themselves. My personal all-time DP rankings go something like this, with considerations given to team success, individual plaudits and league-wide impact.
All Villa is missing that the other four have is a MLS Cup championship. It’s a shame he won’t have the opportunity to win it.
Instead he’ll say goodbye to NYCFC fans on Dec. 3 at a special farewell event, then prepare to embark on another soccer adventure, most likely in Japan, where former Barcelona and Spain teammate Andres Iniesta is putting the final touches on his own legendary career. If his body is right, he’ll make whatever team he signs with better while scoring boatloads of goals.
As for NYCFC…
I share Charles’ skepticism. There’s no replacing Villa. Not the player, and certainly not the man.
Claudio Reyna, Dome Torrent and City Football Group are faced with a gargantuan task this winter. They must replace the man who made their team go for the past four years, who represented NYCFC in the biggest media market in the world, who helped convince people blue was better than red and it was worth going to Yankee Stadium for a game.
Will they go younger, a la Josef Martinez? Will they go for another legend with something left in the tank, like Wayne Rooney? Will they give a Man City prospect an opportunity to shine, perhaps the No. 9 version of Yangel Herrera?
That’s all TBD.
For now, it’s time to say so long to a legend. In his own words, I’ll always remember El Guaje’s time in MLS with love. I’ll be a David Villa supporter forever.