Jorge Villafana, One Pass, and the U.S. National Team
June 09, 2017
MEXICO CITY—For the last week, I've been thinking about a single pass.
There wasn't much in it. The pass wasn't a 50-yard laser across the field. It wasn't a seeing-eye, needle-threading ball. It was a simple one-touch effort that traveled about a dozen yards on the ground. It came in the 61st minute of a meaningless friendly, the type of pass that's easily forgotten.
Except I haven't. I keep thinking about it. Because in those few seconds, we might have seen the future of the United States men's national team.
Here's what happened: With the Americans down 1-0 against Venezula, Darlington Nagbe picked up a loose ball in the left channel outside the opposition's 18-yard box. He lazily turned back and took two dribbles toward midfield, in no obvious rush. He pushed the ball toward Jorge Villafaña who, presumably, would in turn cycle the ball around the midfield so the U.S. could continue its as-yet ineffective poking and prodding of the bunkered backline.
But Villafaña didn't do that. He picked up his head, hit a quick pass to Fabian Johnson who was standing just inside Venezuela’s 18-yard box. Suddenly, Johnson found himself in space. He turned, took a touch, passed to Christian Pulisic, and we all know what happened next. (It starts around the 1:30 mark in the video below.)
Johnson got the assist and the kid go the goal, but Villafaña's quick thinking made the play. He took initiative, took a bit of a risk (if the ball turned over, he would have been well out of position because he made a run following his pass), and it turned into the U.S.'s only score of the evening.
Yes, this is putting a tremendous amount of import on a single pass, and drawing some grand conclusions based on little information. Hyperbolic to say we glimpsed the future? Sure. Wrong? Maybe not.
Bruce Arena—and Jurgen Klinsmann before him—always wanted the Americans to play faster, to attack the opposition with their pace of play. That's how a team creates chances, to strike while the defense is unsettled, to push them out of their comfort zone. The U.S. struggles to take the initiative. This isn't new.
It was something that Arena talked about at halftime after a poor opening 45 minutes against Venezuela. The red, white, and blue created little in the way of attack. There was possession, lots of it, but no real purpose or intent. Villafaña's pass was exactly what the Americans needed. But, more importantly, it's exactly what Arena has been preaching.
He could have pulled it back, dished to Michael Bradley or another player in the middle, and maintained possession.
Villafaña didn't. The former reality show winner took his shot. The U.S needs more like it going forward.
Noah Davis is a New York City-based writer and the Deputy Editor of American Soccer Now. Follow him on Twitter.