Orlando City acquired Jose Villarreal’s rights from the LA Galaxy on Dec. 27, 2017, in exchange for the Lions’ third-round pick in the 2019 MLS SuperDraft. It seemed like a shrewd piece of business to give up a low draft selection for a player who showed a lot of potential in LA, but it turns out the Galaxy were much more willing to give Villarreal than Orlando City was.
Lions’ GM Niki Budalic said this about Villarreal when he was acquired:
“We are pleased to add Jose,” Orlando City’s General Manager Budalic said in a club press release. “He’s an attack-minded player that we feel can contribute in several different roles.”
However, Villarreal was unable to get on the field much in 2018, despite Orlando’s lack of attacking depth. He somehow failed to impress three different coaches enough to receive playing time.
Let’s take a look at his first year in purple.
Villarreal played in only three MLS matches in 2018 — all off the bench — and totaled only 45 minutes of playing time. Of those three outings, two were nine minutes or less in duration. His longest outing was 33 minutes in a 3-0 loss at Montreal back on June 13. He tallied no goals, assists, or shots on the season, was an 81.5% passer, and created two scoring chances. Defensively, Villarreal made one tackle and he committed one foul. He did not accumulate any yellow or red cards.
He played 26 minutes in Orlando City’s 3-0 win over Miami United in the U.S. Open Cup opener, firing one shot and drawing a free kick. He looked good in that match and it seems almost like a tease now because his performance left us wanting to see more of him but that never truly materialized. Villarreal also played one minute in the U.S. Open Cup match against D.C. United that ended up in penalties and was the only Orlando shooter to see his spot kick saved.
Villarreal’s best game was his U.S. Open Cup appearance against Miami United FC. Coming on for Sacha Kljestan, the California native looked exactly like what he was billed to be — a dangerous attacking player. The opposition quality wasn’t MLS level, but it certainly looked to me like it might be the beginning of more playing time for the 25-year-old (then 24) because he passed well, got forward into the attack and looked like a threat. Those qualities were lacking in the team for much of the season, but even if he impressed Jason Kreis enough to get 33 minutes a week later in Montreal, Orlando City fired its head coach two days after that loss to the Impact. Villarreal was forced to start all over with both Bobby Murphy and James O’Connor and it just never happened for him.
2018 Final Grade
The Mane Land staff gives Villarreal a grade of incomplete for the 2018 campaign. There’s nearly nothing that can be gleaned from 45 total minutes of MLS play, despite a few flourishes of promise. Whether he simply doesn’t practice well or there are further issues we’re unaware of, the player we got extremely brief glimpses of on the field is obviously not the same player the various Orlando City coaches saw during the 2018 season and none of them seemed to trust him enough to play him.
The contract status of Villarreal isn’t clear — Transfermarkt says his contract expires at the end of 2018 but there could be an option. Either way, his prospects in Orlando seem limited. After all, O’Connor was playing defensive midfielders and struggling youngsters ahead of him in the second half of the season, despite Villarreal playing in a position of need. There seems to be a good player hiding inside of Villarreal but no one has yet been able to unlock things and let him out. It’s possible that he could earn O’Connor’s trust through preseason camp in 2019 but it seems more likely that the former U.S. youth international will be playing elsewhere next season.