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Timbers Transfer Villafana to Liga MX Side Santos Laguna

Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports

On Tuesday Sports Illustrated's Grant Wahl reported the Timbers transferred Jorge Villafana to Santos Laguna in Liga MX for a high-six-figure transfer fee. Although a source within the Timbers reports the deal is not yet formalized, it likely will be soon and announced shortly thereafter.

Although the Timbers have been reluctant to part with Villafana, Santos ultimately presented an offer that the Timbers could not refuse in the best interest of either Villafana or the club.

With several complicated salary-cap considerations already playing into the Timbers’ 2016 season, the allocation money that Portland stands to receive in exchange for Villafana is necessary to keep much of the Timbers’ Cup-winning side together.

Villafana came to the Timbers by way of the trade with Chivas USA in which the Timbers acquired the second pick in Stage One of the 2014 Re-Entry Draft and Villafana in exchange for Andrew Jean-Baptiste and the 17th pick in the Re-Entry Draft. But the trade, which was billed by many as a means of reuniting Steve Zakuani with Caleb Porter, was also a reunion for Porter and Villafana, who played on Porter’s ill-fated U-23 National Team that failed to qualify for the 2012 Olympic Games.

Villafana's Timbers’ career started with little more fanfare, as the fullback struggled through the 2014 preseason and did not make any appearance for the first team until May 17, 2014, when he came on after Alvas Powell was issued a red card against the Columbus Crew. But the player who had seemingly been buried on the depth chart took his chance and impressed against the Crew, seized the starting left back position, and never looked back.

During his starting tenure Villafana showed a soccer IQ beyond anything the Timbers have seen at the position. More than any fullback in Timbers MLS history, Villafana’s tactical approach varied significantly from match to match and even, on occasion, within a game. At times Villafana was asked to stay connected to his centerback while his fullback partner pressed into the attack, while in other instances Porter unleashed the left back up his touchline where he developed a reputation for whipping in some of the best crosses on the team. For his part, Villafana appeared equally comfortable with either approach, using intelligence and technical quality more than athleticism to emerge as one of the better fullbacks in MLS.

Villafana’s transfer also represents a landmark for MLS and becomes perhaps the best success for the Timbers in terms of player development.The Anaheim native earned his way into the league as an eighteen year old by way of the "Sueño MLS" reality television show and made his debut with Chivas USA at the age of nineteen. The player, therefore, who began his career as a reality TV contestant, and came to Portland as a borderline starter, has with the help of the Timbers built himself into a regular MLS starter and garnered a significant transfer fee from a major Liga MX club.

Indeed, the move comes on the heels of what was arguably Villafana’s best performance in a Timbers uniform, as the left back neutralized MLS Best XI winger Ethan Finlay in Portland’s MLS Cup triumph.

With the move, Villafana stands to receive a very significant raise from his reported $135,000 MLS salary and perhaps garner more of a look from the United States or Mexican National Teams.

For the Timbers, Villafana’s transfer leaves a significant hole at left back - a position at which the Timbers were already likely looking to add depth - that Portland will have to fill during the offseason. But the transfer also gives the Timbers a significant reservoir of resources with which to seek a replacement on the left flank and make additional moves to bolster the roster.

Understandable as the move may have been for all parties involved, however, the move comes as a surprise for a player who had become a fan favorite and started 39 MLS games for the Timbers in 2015. But surprising as the move may be, it nonetheless brings about the end of Villafana’s MLS sueño to begin another one anew in Torreón.