Jose Villarreal took a simple approach into the LA Galaxy's International Champions Cup opener Thursday night against Real Madrid: “Just have fun out there.”
The 19-year-old forward had a blast, scoring a superb second-half goal and nearly netting another with an electrifying move in the opening minutes of a comprehensive 3-1 defeat to the Spanish superpower in Glendale, Ariz.
“You got to come out with a little bit of confidence,” Villarreal told reporters afterward. “I think I did that, and I'm happy I got the goal, but not happy with the result.”
The Homegrown product has shown glimpses of something special several times during his season-and-a-half with the Galaxy, but this time he did so on an elevated stage while sharing the field with the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Kaká, Ángel di Maria and Luka Modric.
Villarreal trimmed a flattering deficit to 2-1 in the 63rd minute, after Robbie Rogers' cross from the left wing was cleared out of the Real Madrid box. He took the ball on the fly just outside the semicircle, beating Modric with a move to his favored left foot, then accelerating past defender David Mateos inside the 18. His shot, a left-footer into the right corner of the net, was a beauty.
“I'm very happy for Jose Villarreal,” head coach Bruce Arena said in his postgame news conference. “It was a great individual play, and a great play by Robbie Rogers to get him the ball. Jose was well positioned and it was a great individual effort. It was outstanding, a great moment.”
Villarreal had scored just once in his 15 first-team appearances since March.
“I've been lagging scoring goals lately,” he said. “So I'm happy to get one back.”
He was nearly as good in the ninth minute, after tracking down Juninho's too-far corner kick deep on the right byline. Real forward Casemiro tried to shut him down, but Villarreal easily weaved past, hugging the end line, then danced past defender Daniel Carvajal before firing, a bit off-target, at a well-covered near post.
It was a classy move, perhaps not on par with the best of what Cristiano Ronaldo provided in a 45-minute performance that thrilled the announced crowd of 38,922 at the University of Phoenix Stadium, but impressive in its own right.
Villarreal got nearly as much joy out of watching Real Madrid's effortless mastery, primarily through Ronaldo, di María and Isco and especially in the first half. It's a standard he aspires to.
“I was like a sponge out there,” he said. “I was looking at them, looking at what they do, trying to see what they do. These are great players ... and, obviously, they started out somewhere.”