Player quotes within club-sanctioned press releases are notoriously bland. That is especially true when it is a Major League Soccer club rolling out a decorated European veteran.
“Throughout my career, I’ve always tried to keep pushing myself to achieve new targets, and this represents another important goal for me,” the Spain international said in the release. “I want to try and help MLS continue to grow through playing, working hard, scoring goals and at the same time try to make New York City FC become the best team in the league.”
What caused eyes to roll towards the heavens at the time feels prophetic now. Because while Villa’s sentiments were predictable, and have been aped in countless press releases before and since, he’s backed up every word.
The first of Villa’s two goals in NYC FC’s 2-1 win over Seattle on Saturday at Yankee Stadium was his 50th in MLS. The World Cup champion reached the milestone in just 79 appearances, the fifth fastest to the mark in league history. And while some may point to New York City’s lack of silverware over the same timeframe as a counterpoint, it is fair to begin considering Villa among the very best foreign signings ever in MLS.
Robbie Keane is still the gold standard. The Irishman and former Tottenham Hotspur forward tallied a mindboggling 73 goals and 43 assists in 108 games with Los Angeles. He won three MLS Cups, and was named the 2014 league MVP. Toronto FC’s Sebastian Giovinco deserves serious consideration, too, for how the little Italian turned around a previously moribund franchise and changed the paradigm as a proven entity joining MLS while still in his prime.
Beyond those two, though? Villa has as good a case as anybody.
David Beckham and Thierry Henry were both transformative figures, legitimate superstars lending much-needed credibility. Neither of them fit the stereotype of the aging player cashing in on a late-stage payday, and each is remembered fondly for his contribution to the development of MLS.
Yet it never seemed to matter quite as much to either Beckham or Henry as it does to Villa. When Villa describes growing the league as an important career goal, you see it in the tireless work he puts in week-in and week-out. Whereas others might bristle at the shortcomings of less-accomplished team-mates, Villa appears dedicated to lifting up those around him closer to his level.
Much like the quotes from the intro, Villa’s game isn’t always flashy – with a few, notable exceptions – but he works hard, and he scores goals. His second goal on Saturday was vintage Villa: intelligently ghosting into space at the back post before finishing first-time with his right boot. While we may never know whether Lionel Messi can perform on a wet night in Stoke, Villa ran through the heavy rain in New York on Saturday with the energy of a much younger player.
He might not have yet established NYC FC as the best team in the league, but after the tumult of his team’s inaugural campaign and coming off an unlikely Eastern Conference semi-final, they’ve come much farther much sooner than many predicted.
“To be honest I’m not surprised,” Vieira told reporters after NYC FC’s win over Seattle, “because you have to look at David’s career and what he has achieved. It is not easy to be the top goal-scorer in Spain’s history. It’s not easy to win the Champions League and the World Cup.”
It is testament to the Spaniard that he has done all that and still chases his latest goal with such evident hunger. MLS is a better place for his efforts, and when all is said and done, Villa will hold an exalted place in its all-time hierarchy.
Elsewhere in the league
- To balance out all that positive with a dose of the negative: let’s talk about DC United.
DC have established themselves as a perennial playoff team despite a bare-bones budget and unspectacular style. The years of piecing together a fringe contender with frayed yarn and chewing gum, however, appear to be coming to an end.
United have now gone 665 minutes without scoring that wasn’t a set piece. Their 10 goals in 15 games this season are by some distance the fewest in MLS, and their minus-15 goal differential is worst in the Eastern Conference.
DC are now 1-5-1 since the end of April, and with four straight road games looming after this weekend’s home match against Atlanta United, a reprieve is nowhere in sight.
- Atlanta’s Josef Martinez, as has been his wont, did not waste any time. Martinez returned to MLS action for the first time in two-and-a-half months on Saturday against Columbus and returned to the scoresheet only 25 minutes after coming on as a second-half sub.
Martinez suffered a quad injury on international duty with Venezuela in late March after a torrid start, and he didn’t betray much rust. He’s now scored six goals in five career MLS appearances.
Atlanta needed the boost, too: they have steadily dropped in the standings, not-coincidentally, after Martinez went down but now find themselves back north of the playoff cutoff line in sixth place.
-Breathtaking feat of athleticism of the week: Alberth Elis, Houston Dynamo. The Honduran winger is so much fun to watch, and this was Elis at his best. Few, if any, players in the league possess that kind of extra gear, and Elis finished off his speed burst with a deft chip.
- Goal of week: Jozy Altidore, Toronto FC. Everything about this attack was well executed, from Michael Bradley’s outlet to Giovinco’s pinpoint pass to Altidore’s finish. It was tougher than it looked at first glance, too: Altidore’s first touch was excellent, as was the decision to use the outside of his right foot to swerve the ball inside the left post.
This article was written by Matt Pentz, for theguardian.com on Monday 19th June 2017 12.49 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010