PORTLAND, Ore—Jose Villarreal was on the field for less than a minute during the Galaxy’s 5-3 victory over the Portland Timbers, but it will be a minute that the 18-year-old midfielder will never forget.
The 18-year-old homegrown product from Inglewood made his professional debut on Saturday night, coming on for Robbie Keane in the final seconds of stoppage time. Although the youngster was unable to register even a touch on the ball before the final whistle was blown, it was a debut to remember.
“I was excited, I’m glad that I went in those couple minutes that I went in,” Villarreal told LAGalaxy.com after the match. “It felt great, the stadium was packed and there were a lot of people and it felt really good.”
While Villarreal can now bask in the glow of his professional debut, the 18-year-old endured his share of difficulties since being signed as the third homegrown player in Galaxy franchise history last December. After joining the Galaxy academy in July of 2011, Villarreal was ineligible to appear with the club’s first team until he first fulfilled all MLS's homegrown-player training requirements, a process that takes a year to complete. Eligible to play in only Reserve League and Academy games, Villarreal’s preseason was cut short just days in as he underwent surgery to repair bilateral lower-leg compartment syndrome.
Sidelined until March, Villarreal admitted that the injury layoff caused him few restless moments as he was forced to watch his new teammates from the sidelines. But upon making his return from injury, Villarreal quickly began to show why he is considered to be one of the top youth prospects in the United States.
Whether it was with the Under-18 Academy side or the reserves, Villarreal racked up impressive numbers. With the Academy, he made a total of 16 appearances, scoring ten goals while helping lead his team to the US Soccer Developmental Academy SoCal Division title. While in reserve league play, Villarreal amassed three goals in five appearances.
With those performances in mind and his Academy requirements fulfilled as of last week, the Galaxy’s coaching staff immediately inserted Villarreal into the club’s travel roster for their Pacific Northwest road trip, thereby setting the stage for his debut in Portland.
“It’s been tough, I couldn’t do preseason with the guys because of the injury that I had and I had to wait until now, but I just have to keep going,” said Villarreal. “But, I felt excited when I saw that email [stating that he would be traveling with the club] that said my name; I’ve been waiting for this for a long time.”’
And with his professional debut in the books, the precocious youngster is already looking ahead to playing an even greater role with the Galaxy.
“I’ve got to keep working and training hard,” said Villarreal. “Obviously, it’s working so I need to keep at it.”