12715_isis-villafanajorge_1_mlsro120615012 Rick Osentoski/isiphotos.com
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Jorge Villafana's Brilliant Cup Effort Raises His Profile

The 26-year-old Portland Timbers fullback was the subject of some pre-MLS Cup trash talk—but he responded with a great performance that could result in a U.S. national team call-up.
BY Brian Sciaretta Posted
December 07, 2015
5:50 PM

COLUMBUS, Ohio—For left back Jorge Villafana, the breakthrough came on Sunday.

In the past, even while he was a consistent starter with now-defunct Chivas USA, it was easy to look past the 26-year-old fullback. In fact, the spotlight in Los Angeles was perhaps brightest for Villafana before he actually made the team—due in large part to his performance on the reality television show Sueño MLS.

Villafana was traded to Portland before the start of the 2014 season and enjoyed a solid-yet-unspectacular season for a team that failed to make the playoffs. This year was quite another story, as the Anaheim native started 41 games across all competitions and helped the Timbers claim the league title.

“I feel that some people don't give you credit and you have to win things for them to see what you have,” Villafana told American Soccer Now after Portland’s 2-1 win over Columbus. “Winning this trophy shows a lot of people we have a good team and that I am a good player and that I can play at a high level.”

The Timbers won MLS Cup largely because of a defense that held strong in the face of high-powered offenses, keeping Vancouver scoreless over two legs in the conference semifinals and limiting Columbus to just one shot on goal.

That domination was surprising to many: Columbus, after all, had defeated a strong Montreal Impact team led by Didier Drogba and followed it up by ousting the Supporters’ Shield-winning New York Red Bulls.

And it may have surprised MLS Best XI winger Ethan Finlay as much as anyone.

“For myself on the right side going against Villafana, I like that matchup,” Finlay told reporters after his team had eliminated the Red Bulls in Harrison, N.J.

Many pundits agreed with Finlay, who scored 12 goals and notched 13 assists as he teamed up with Justin Meram to form the league’s most dangerous wing combination.

Villafana, though, took Finlay out of Sunday’s game in a figurative and, later, literal sense: His shutdown of Finlay proved so comprehensive that Columbus coach Gregg Berhalter was forced to take Finlay out of the game in the 63rd minute to try to find another equation that might work.

Following the game, it was obvious that Finlay’s comments about Villafana had inspired the left back.

“I knew early in the week that I didn't have to say a word to Jorge,” Portland coach Caleb Porter said. “That was great for me. I knew he read articles. I knew he'd be really up for it. He's a competitive kid. If you challenge him, he is going to step up even more. I thought he was exceptional, and he has been all year.”

“[Finlay is] a great player, but a week before they were talking that they were the best team man-for-man,” Villafana said. “He was talking about that he liked the matchup against me—probably thinking that I was an easy player and that he was going to have a field day. It wasn't like that.

"You have to be humble. You have to show your soccer on the field. If you talk, at the end, it's going to go back to you. Right now, we came into their house, we stole their trophy, and we're celebrating in their house.”

Villafana’s performance seems likely to net even more than that trophy, too. A former U.S. youth international, Villafana would seem to have a clear opening for the senior national team at the left back position.

His opportunity could come soon. Next month, U.S. head coach Jurgen Klinsmann will is expected to hold the annual January camp for players based in MLS and other leagues that have long winter breaks. Typically, that camp concludes with one or two friendlies, with the top players from camp continuing on with the team as the games become increasingly important.

After a disappointing year, Klinsmann has said that he is looking to bring fresh blood into his team. Villafana could well be a beneficiary.

“You're always hoping for those opportunities,” Villafana said. “I hope they see my work and I hope I get the call.”

When reminded that such a call-up next month would likely have him be teammates with Finlay, he smiled—and gave a diplomatic response.

“I don't know him as a person, but I think those things you learn,” Villafana said. “Off the field, you're just a normal person, but on the field you turn into a different person. Off the field if I see him again and we're on the team together, we have to work toward the common goal.”

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