Following a 1-1 draw between Club Tijuana and Santos Laguna in Liga MX on Friday night, Santos defender Jorge Villafaña spoke to SoccerNation’s Nate Abaurrea regarding his inclusion in the latest United States Men’s National Team roster.
Villafaña (who was brought into the senior national team fold for the first time during the recent January camp and played in both friendly matches against Serbia in San Diego and Jamaica in Chattanooga) will be a part of Bruce Arena’s USMNT squad for the upcoming World Cup Qualifiers, at home against Honduras in San Jose this coming Friday and away to Panama on March 28th.
Both matches will be massively important for the U.S. who currently sit at the doormat of the six team, hexagonal table with eight matches to play, the top three teams receiving automatic qualification to World Cup 2018 in Russia.
Villafaña, a 27 year-old Southern California native and winner of the 2015 MLS Cup with the Portland Timbers, discussed some pivotal points of his soccer upbringing, from his teenage years to his involvement with the U.S. U-20 team, and what this particular call up means for his career.
Nate Abaurrea: Jorge, what does it mean to you to be called into a World Cup Qualifying squad for the United States, especially in this crucial period for the team?
Jorge Villafaña: I’m excited. I’m happy to be called back in and to be a part of the squad for these very important games. Right now, I get to be with my family for a few days, which is very nice. And then after that, the team is gonna get together in San Jose. I’m really excited.
Nate Abaurrea: What were your first thoughts when you saw your name included in Bruce Arena’s roster, and you knew you were going to be a part of this team?
Jorge Villafaña: It was something that was always on my mind. It’s something I’ve dreamed of for a long time, ever since I started playing professionally. Right now, I’m living it, trying to enjoy it. I’m staying in this moment and trying to make the most of it. We need to get wins in these games. That is so important at this stage. And if I have a chance to start or to play in these games, it will be all about doing anything I can to help the team win.
Nate Abaurrea: Now you got into the squad for those friendlies in late January and early February against Serbia and Jamaica. You were a player that a lot of people were talking about during that camp and especially after those two matches. What do you think you did in that time with the national team that helped you get back in the squad for these qualifiers?
Jorge Villafaña: I pretty much saw it as an opportunity. When Bruce told me that he wanted me to go with the national team in January, and the club [Santos Laguna] let me go, I knew it would be a great opportunity for me to show what I got, to prove myself. I got to play in both games, and got to play one full game. Personally, I thought I played well, and the staff liked it. They saw that I could be an option for the qualifiers. When I saw the list come out and saw my name on there, I was happy because it showed that the hard work has paid off.
Nate Abaurrea: Who were some of the guys in that last national team camp that maybe helped you feel comfortable as you were going through the buzz of getting your first caps?
Jorge Villafaña: It was really nice that I knew a lot of the guys in that January camp from back with the U.S. U-20’s. Juan Agudelo was a guy I always loved playing with. Darlington Nagbe was another guy who I’ve played well with, winning a championship together in Portland. There were also tons of guys who I knew from my time in MLS, guys I played against every few weeks. When I saw all of those guys, it felt good. It made me feel like I’d been there a while, not just one time. I never felt like a newcomer or anything like that. I think that’s one of the reasons why I felt so comfortable and was able to do well in that January camp.
Looking ahead to San Jose and Panama City…
With the recent hamstring injury suffered by Fabian Johnson, there is a distinct chance that Villafaña could see the field as left-back for Bruce Arena, potentially from the start in one or both matches.
The Yanks are in no position to be timid with the accelerator against Honduras, meaning they could be susceptible to Honduran counter-attacks. This makes the outside-back positions all the more crucial for U.S. success this coming Friday at Avaya Stadium in San Jose.
The longer the game remains scoreless, or if Honduras are to nab a lead of their own, the more the Americans will have to push forward, possibly leaving defensive gaps that could very well be exposed by speedy attacking players in the Honduran set-up. Look out for Houston Dynamo forward/winger Romell Quioto, who scored the opener in Honduras’ 3-1 win over Trinidad & Tobago in November.
That win, which came at home at Estadio Olimpico Metropolitano in San Pedro Sula, what has so often been a fortress for the Honduran team, followed up a disappointing 1-0 loss to Panama at the very same ground. The back-to-back home matches to open up the hexagonal represented a fantastic opportunity for Honduras to jump to the top of the final qualifying round table, of which they were only able to take partial advantage.
After the match in San Jose, Honduras will head back to San Pedro Sula for a third home affair in the opening four hexagonal matches, this time taking on Costa Rica.
The U.S. coaching staff are certainly hoping that the team’s backline is not the main talking point at the conclusion of the game against Honduras. That will be up to players like Jozy Altidore, Bobby Wood, the wonderkid Christian Pulisic, and others with attacking flair to truly show up on Friday night, as well as midfielders such as Captain Michael Bradley to control the tempo of the match.
The Yanks need goals. The Yanks need a win and three massive points. Anything less will be a disappointment.
Considering the circumstances, the same could be said for the next U.S. match in Panama on March 28th. A win or simply scoring in Panama City will be no easy task. Panama have had a quality start to the hexagonal, the 1-0 away win over Honduras followed by a 0-0 stalemate at home with Mexico.
The March 28th match will be the first time Panama has hosted the Americans since the fateful night of October 14th, 2013, the final matchday of the last hexagonal when two added-time U.S. goals from Graham Zusi and Aron Johannsson eliminated Panama from the chance at a World Cup Finals playoff spot against New Zealand. That spot then went to Mexico, who would’ve been eliminated had Panama held on for what looked to be a sure 2-1 victory, only to be defeated 3-2 in stunning fashion.
With revenge certainly on the minds of a Panama team in fine form, the importance of three points against Honduras becomes all the more apparent for Bruce Arena’s team.
Stay tuned to SoccerNation.com and @Soccer_Nation on Twitter for full coverage in the build up to USA vs. Honduras.