MEXICO CITY— Confidence has long been one of Jose Villarreal’s defining traits as a player so it was no surprise that the young forward would leap at the opportunity to test himself with Cruz Azul, one of the largest clubs in Mexico’s Liga MX. But now that the forward displayed the necessary gall to embark upon such an adventure, the 20-year-old is determined to prove that it was the right move.
In January, just months after completing his sophomore season in MLS that saw him make 31 appearances in all competitions, scoring three goals and a single assist, Villarreal was unveiled by the Mexico City-based club on a year-long loan from the Galaxy. The move makes plenty of sense for the young forward as the more technical playing style of Liga MX fits well to the complexities of Villarreal’s game.
Initially, Villarreal was a noticeable absence from the Cruz Azul lineup due to what he described as a leg issue, but the 20-year-old has recently made two starts for Cruz Azul’s Under-20 side even scoring a goal in their victory over the Chivas de Guadalajara U-20’s last month.
“The loan is going well. I like it here in Mexico City and I’ve been having fun. The teammates are treating me well, the coaching staff is great and the city is amazing. I’m very happy here,” Villarreal told LA Galaxy Insider from the Galaxy team hotel in Mexico City earlier this week. “I’m ready to go now. I’m getting rhythm and I should be getting games soon.”
Where in Cruz Azul’s system Villarreal will be able to earn minutes is still up in the air at the moment. With the first team currently sitting atop Liga MX for the 2014 Clausura Tournament and boasting talented attackers like Fabian and Argentines “Chaco” Giménez and Joao Rojas, Villarreal may be forced to contend for time elsewhere.
The prime candidate is Cruz Azul Hidalgo, a team under the Azul umbrella that sits in the Liga de Ascenso or second division of Mexican soccer. Not only does Hidalgo offer minutes at a reasonably high level, but they are also still alive in the Copa MX which serves as Mexico’s version of the U.S. Open Cup.
Said Villarreal when asked about his place with Cruz Azul, “I’m not sure yet. The team is doing well right now so there is only so much that the coach can do to move around the pieces. But I’m happy where I am and any way that I can help the team, I’ll go there.”
One person who is keeping a well-trained eye on Villarreal’s progress is Galaxy captain Robbie Keane, who has tipped the LA Homegrown for success down in Mexico.
“He’s a great little player. I’m sure that the experience in Mexico will only help him,” said Keane. “I think that he’ll come back [to the Galaxy] even stronger because he sure has a lot to offer.”
No matter what happens at the end of the year—be it a full-time deal with Cruz Azul or a return to the Galaxy—Villarreal is excited about the challenges that his loan will bring.
“This is an important move to me. Los Angeles is always going to be my home and I miss the team, but it is a big step for me in my young career,” said Villarreal. “It’s going to help me grow as a player to play with such high caliber players. We’ll evaluate at the end of the year how everything went, but hopefully it goes well.”
Adam Serrano is the LA Galaxy Insider. Read his blog at LAGalaxy.com/Insider and contact him at LAGalaxyInsider@Gmail.com