CARSON, Calif. – Jose Villarreal may not have set Mexico City ablaze during his short loan stint with Liga MX giants Cruz Azul, but the forward grew in other meaningful ways both on and off the field.
Now married to his long-term girlfriend Eveilyn, the 20-year-old striker from Inglewood has returned to the Galaxy determined to show that he’s not only a better player but a more mature person in his second stint with the club.
Just a day after rejoining the club following month-long talks between the two teams, Villarreal displayed his trademark scoring touch when he beautifully chipped the goalkeeper to score Galaxy II’s only goal in a 3-1 defeat to the Pittsburgh Riverhounds.
It was moments of brilliance like the one he showcased in Pittsburgh that made him one of the Galaxy’s most highly touted prospects and it’s something he is determined to show on a regular basis as he looks to rebound from a frustrating stint in Mexico.
“I would say I have grown up in the last year and I have matured. I’ve learned from the experienced players [with the Galaxy] and the [Cruz Azul] players that I grew up watching so I hope to take a little bit from all of them,” he said. “I think my style has changed because I’m a little more determined to do well. And obviously, now I have real responsibility because I’m married and I have to take care of my family, so that’s another incentive.”
But Villarreal’s maturation process hasn’t been limited to his exploits away from soccer.
“I’ve learned that Bruce [Arena]’s thing with me [during my first time with LA] was to be able to get fit throughout 90 minutes. That was what I was working on when I was down there,” said Villarreal. “[The Mexico City] altitude helped a lot when I was down there, so I am ready to get into that same mode. I am a little bit more aggressive going at the players so I think you should be looking forward to seeing that on the field.”
Villarreal returns to the Galaxy after an unsuccessful stint with Cruz Azul where he failed to earn a first-team roster spot and was limited to action with the team’s Under-20 side and second division affiliate Cruz Azul-Hidalgo. Although Villarreal intended to stick around in Mexico throughout his year-long loan, once Cruz Azul ended their partnership with the club in Hidalgo, returning to LA became a major possibility.
And while Villarreal was sitting on the bench in Mexico, Villarreal saw Galaxy II as a place where he could earn significant time.
“It’s funny because I wouldn’t have made the decision [to go to Mexico] if I knew that Galaxy II was here before I left. It was something that caught me by surprise when I heard about it,” said Villarreal. “I was happy that some of the players that I know here were getting some minutes, so obviously, towards the end of the stint that I was down there at Mexico, I thought Galaxy II might be a good opportunity for me to move up to the first team.”
In their conversations with reporters, both Galaxy head coach Bruce Arena and Galaxy II boss Curt Onalfo hinted that depending on his form, Villarreal is expected to remain with Los Dos for the duration of the USL PRO campaign. Should he remain with Galaxy II, he’ll be reunited with former Galaxy Academy teammates like Raul Mendiola, Jack McBean, Oscar Sorto and even his younger brother Jaime Villarreal.
For Onalfo’s club, which currently finds itself in the fourth place in the USL PRO standings, Villarreal’s signing could be the difference as he looks to the playoffs.
“He's been out of commission for a while, so it's just a matter of him working on his game fitness, getting a little sharper in everything that he's doing, and he's come with a really good attitude,” Onalfo said. “He's working hard, and it's nice to see that he contributed quickly. And he's moving along just fine."
Before Villarreal can be a consistent contributor for Galaxy II, he’ll have to return to full fitness which the 20-year-old says is still a concern. But with the frustration of the stint in Mexico firmly in the back of his mind, Villarreal admits that the time is now for him to showcase his newfound maturity in LA.
“It’s going to be a good challenge for me, and I will see what I can do from there to move on to the first team,” said Villarreal. “I have some things to prove to myself that I can really comeback from that slump and do well.”