There have been many good players who have become favorites of Chivas USA fans over the years. Since I started writing on this site, there were only two who I knew I would be sentimental about their departure, if it ever came to that.
On Thursday, one of those players left, as Jorge Villafana was traded to the Portland Timbers in exchange for Andrew Jean-Baptiste. From a purely rational perspective, the deal makes sense, as Chivas appear to have a (relative) surplus of midfielders and a glaring need for defenders. Plus, we all know how sports are a business, most of us ultimately root for laundry, and so forth.
But I've written about Villafaña a few times in the past and there are two reasons I couldn't help but be sentimental with the guy. First, his story is simply incredible. On top of that, his place on Chivas USA reached back into the team's glory days, and reflected the roots of much of the fanbase.
It's easy to turn his origin story in pro soccer into a punchline, but I remain impressed that Villafaña not only won his spot with Chivas USA through "Sueño," the MLS "American Idol," but he stayed on the team through the years beyond the initial novelty of the reality show. Look, the track record speaks for itself. Maybe some of the subsequent winners of the show will go on to successful pro careers (recent winners are teenagers still in the MLS academies), but Villafaña was not only the first, but the only one to make an MLS roster altogether to this point.*
* Before you point out Rogelio Funes Mori, I know the second "Sueño" winner is now with Benfica. Reportedly, immigration issues prevented him from signing with FC Dallas back in the day.
Beyond that, the guy not only took up a roster spot, he learned his craft among other pros and also made it into some U.S. youth national teams, including the U-23 team that fell at the last hurdle of 2012 Olympic qualifying. I don't think he'll ever be a full international, but let's just say he wasn't just a flash in the pan.
I think Villafaña's ties to Chivas' best days made him a tangible link to the past. Coming aboard in 2007, he was not only the longest-tenured Chivas player until Thursday (only Dan Kennedy comes remotely close to being around as long, as he joined the team in 2008), but he had been through more ups and downs of anyone.
We saw "Sueño" grow from a teenage reality show winner to a man who was a solid pro. It happened in front of our eyes. I think the team might have marketed with him as the face of the team at some point except for the fact that he was so shy. But that shyness just made him seem like one of the gang. We put our heads down and work every week, and so did he. He was the local kid made good, the rags to riches story, and the guy who worked hard at his craft and improved every season. He played in defense, in midfield, wherever he was asked to play. He had deep connections to both Mexico and the United States.
He's still a local kid, regardless of where he plays, and going to a new city will give him and his family an opportunity to take on a new challenge. He won't be wearing the Chivas kit anymore, and for a player who I thought might play his whole career with the Goats, that's kind of a shame. But I sincerely wish him the best of luck with the Timbers, and you can believe I'll continue to root for "Sueño."
What do you think? Leave a comment below!
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