Villarreal fires Galaxy into the CCL semis with stellar showing

Villarreal displays confidence and swagger as he lifts the Galaxy to the CCL Semifinals

CARSON, Calif. – Jose Villarreal’s LA Galaxy teammates have been raving about the 19-year-old’s confidence after a successful stint with the U.S. Under-20’s and on Wednesday, with a berth in the CONCACAF Champions League semifinals on the line, the youngster delivered.

Villarreal scored in the 69th minute to put the Galaxy up 2-0 over C.S. Herediano in a match that ultimately ended in a 4-1 victory for LA. The win allowed the Galaxy to become just the fourth team in MLS history to reach the semifinals of the Champions League.

WATCH: Villarreal's goal

Although the 19-year-old was admittedly battling some fatigue, Villarreal found a way to give LA some breathing room in Wednesday night’s all important second leg.  Put on the run by a Sean Franklin pass, Villarreal snaked past Herediano’s Esteban Grandos, before firing a left-footed blast past goalkeeper Daniel Cambronero and into the back of the net.

The goal was an almost exact replica as his first career goal, which came against Vancouver Whitecaps FC last July.

“I was just happy to get that goal. It was my first shot of the game. I’m just happy that we got the result and we got that victory as a team,” Villarreal told reporters. “I was missing the guys a lot [while he was away with the U.S. U-20’s]. I’m happy to be back and now I’m excited for the Chivas game.

“I was running up and down the field and I was hoping to get one chance and I’m glad that I put it in,” Villarreal added.

Throughout the match, Villarreal was active as he formed a successful tandem with Robbie Keane that created numerous chances for the Galaxy from the start.

Following another stellar performance from the youngster, count Villarreal’s Galaxy teammates among those impressed by the maturity and poise that the 19-year-old displayed in his first start of 2013. The overriding sentiment among them – Villarreal is hardly a surprise anymore.

“It’s no secret why he came into the lineup tonight. He’s on fire and he’s going to be a big player for us this year,” said defender Todd Dunivant. “He came right back in [from the U.S. camp] and he didn’t miss a beat after coming back. He was a leader on that team and he brought that confidence here with us.”

READ: Villarreal aims for starting role after “amazing” U-20 stint

“He was done well. As I’ve said before, it could be a big season for him,” said Keane. “He stepped up tonight and showed his quality. He scored a vital goal at an opportune moment so it was good for us.”

2012 Highlights: Villarreal

As Keane said, Villarreal’s strike came at an opportune time for LA as Omar Gonzalez’s 18th minute strike put the Galaxy ahead, but a single Herediano goal would have put the Costa Ricans back level on aggregate and ahead on the away goals tiebreaker. After watching Herediano push forward in search of a crucial away goal at the end of the first half, Villarreal admits that the message from Galaxy head coach Bruce Arena was simple.

“We just wanted to keep the momentum going and pressure them,” said Villarreal of the Galaxy’s tactics going into the second half. “We knew that they were going to come out fired up so as soon as we got that second goal, things just opened up for us.”

Now the Inglewood-native born to Mexican parents and the rest of the Galaxy will take on Monterrey, the two-time defending CCL champions. The match offers Villarreal yet another opportunity to go up against Mexican competition, but the teenager remains focused on the task at hand—Sunday’s SuperClasico against Chivas USA.

READ: Galaxy set their sights on Monterrey in CONCACAF Champions League Semifinals

“It’ll be a great match-up against Monterrey, they’re a top team in Mexico and it’ll be a good match up to see where we are,” said Villarreal. “But I’m focused on the Chivas game right now and I’m just thinking about that.”

After his stellar showing against Herediano, expect to see Villarreal in the starting lineup once again on Sunday.

Adam Serrano is the LA Galaxy Insider. Read his blog at LAGalaxy.com/Insider and contact him at LAGalaxyInsider@Gmail.com