LOS ANGELES – While NYCFC mulls options for how to replacing their recently departed captain and talisman ahead of the 2019 MLS season, the club’s first-ever signing took the field against LAFC at Banc of California Stadium in a friendly to prepare for his upcoming season.
No, David Villa hadn’t made some glorious return in a sky blue kit for a preseason game in Los Angeles, nor was he part of a new MLS team looking to get the best out of a marksman who scored 77 goals in four years in the league.
Instead, Villa was donning the maroon kits of Vissel Kobe, his new club in Japan’s J-League.
Thursday night, Villa took the field alongside the likes of Lukas Podolski and former Barcelona teammate Andres Iniesta, as LAFC defeated Vissel Kobe 4-1.
“The idea of getting on the same field with Iniesta and David Villa,” said LAFC coach Bob Bradley in the run up to the game. “If you’re not excited for that, something’s wrong.”
Rumors began picking up steam in 2017 that as Iniesta wound down his 16-year, 400+ appearance career for Barcelona, that possible reunion with Villa at NYCFC was in the cards — a combination that could move the Big Apple closer to its elusive first MLS Cup.
In the end, the duo reunited for the J-League club.
“He’s a very important [addition] to our team,” said Iniesta through a translator following the friendly, when asked about reconnecting with Villa for the budding project in Kobe. “He will help us with goals, add more talent to the team."
Having only just departed MLS in early December after NYCFC’s Audi 2018 MLS Cup Playoffs run ended in Atlanta, Villa was low-key on his big move this offseason, but credited Iniesta's friendship throughout their careers.
“I talked with [Iniesta] a lot because he is my friend more than my teammate,” Villa said to reporters on his way to the Vissel bus.
As for the future — and whether he feels the game in Japan will be vastly different than what he faced in MLS — Villa had a simple answer:
“Football is football,” said Villa in Spanish. “The culture is different in different countries but football is the same."