Last month, between preseason training sessions with Liga MX side Santos Laguna, Jorge Villafaña received a call from an unknown number. Hanging in his hotel room and tired from the day’s first practice, he thought about letting the call go to voice mail, but ultimately decided to pick up.
He’s glad he did.
“It was Coach Bruce [Arena] that was calling me,” the 27-year-old defender told ussoccer.com.
Less than a month into his second tenure as MNT head coach, Arena reached out to Villafaña about the possibility of joining the team during January Camp.
“I didn’t know what to say at first. I was so nervous, but I was really happy that I answered the call.”
It’s not the first time Villafaña has achieved something big. Back in 2007, he took part in Sueño M.L.S. in Los Angeles, a made-for-TV competition that culminated in the winner being offered an opportunity to join the Chivas USA Academy.
Just 17, Villafaña wasn’t even pre-registered for the event, but showed up the day of and beat out 2,000 participants to eventually win the competition. Offered a chance to train with the Chivas USA U-19 side, in three months he was signed to the club’s first team roster and made his M.L.S. debut in July 2007.
During his seven seasons at Chivas USA, Villafaña gained his first international experience when he represented the United States at the 2009 FIFA U-20 World Cup and later took part in the 2012 Olympic Qualifying tournament with the U-23 MNT.
Two seasons with the Portland Timbers culminated with an M.L.S. Cup title in 2015 before Villafaña moved to Santos Laguna in 2016.
Five years on from the last time he suited up for the United States, the left back joined camp Wednesday night with the blessing of Santos Laguna and admitted he’s long pondered when he would earn his first call-up to the senior team.
“It’s always been in the back of my mind,” he told ussoccer.com. “I remember when I got traded to Portland and I started getting good playing time. The team was doing well and then the year after that we were M.L.S. Cup champions and then me going abroad, it was always in the back of my mind and I was always wondering when it was going to come.”
With a new head coach the chance finally came. Arena told reporters Thursday that he had long been impressed by the defender.
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“I’ve seen Jorge in his days at Chivas USA, at Portland and then he played against the Galaxy a year ago with Santos and I thought he played very well,” the MNT head coach said. “I always thought he was a player that needed an opportunity with the National Team program.”
Thankful for that opportunity, Villafaña is now looking to make the most of it.
“Most players aspire to be on the U.S. National Team and have the chance to represent your country. I think it’s an honor to be on the National Team. It’s really important for that reason.
“I’m still living the dream.”