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Forest for the Trees: In honor of Jorge Villafaña’s resurgent season

El Sueño cruelly experienced the dichotomy of elation and despair that soccer can bring on Sunday. His season deserves to be remembered as so much more than that. 

MLS: FC Dallas at Portland Timbers Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

As soon as Jorge Villafaña stepped up for his spot kick, I got a pit in my stomach. The Portland Timbers were still knotted up with FC Dallas in the eighth round of sudden death of a penalty kick shootout at the conclusion of their first round playoff clash. The only way it was ending was when someone blinked first, and someone on the field was going to be pegged as “the guy who missed.” Villafaña deserved it the least.

Villafaña had scored what appeared to be the winner in the 82nd minute, and despite Portland conceding a late equalizer yet again, he had put in a solid 120 minutes of work in the playoff bout. It was performance emblematic of what had been a resurgent season for the Timbers’ fullback. If this game we love was fair and just, Villafaña would have drilled his kick, and Portland may have perhaps even gone on to win the match.

But this game of ours is unfair and anything but just. We all saw it: Villafaña’s kick was high and to the right, Dallas ‘keeper Jimmy Maurer guessed right, and the ball was palmed away. Portland’s season ends, Dallas moves on. Villafaña goes from the glory and elation of winning to the despair and heartbreak of being the one whose last kick ended Portland’s season.

What made it especially cruel was that in addition to a good match Sunday night, Villafaña has had an excellent season for the Portland Timbers- perhaps even his best ever. His 2020 deserves to be remembered as more than just “the guy who missed”. Before we start to fully close the door on this season’s campaign and look to the next, let’s put some respect on the name of El Sueño.

After an inconsistent 2019 season, Jorge Villafaña looked his prime 2015 self this year. As an attacking fullback, Villafaña is tasked with getting forward and joining in the attack. According to the stats, 2020 was his most productive attacking season ever.

He notched five assists this season, one more than his total in 2015 and matching the number set in 2019 for his most ever in a professional campaign. He formed a great working relationship with new arrival Yimmi Chara on the left wing as the year went on, leading to pretty passages of play such as this:

When you chip in the one regular season goal on decision day and his first ever career playoff goal he notched last night, Villafaña tallied two goals and five assists in just over 2,000 total minutes played across all competitions, his overall most productive season to date. To reinforce the production Villafaña showed on the field, no other out and out fullback in MLS tallied as many assists as he did, and only two had more combined goals and assists than El Sueño.

Villafaña’s resurgence was not only in the attacking third, but in the defensive third as well. After a shaky start to 2020, the Timbers’ left back seemed to grow more steady and improve with each passing game. The underlying numbers offer a window into Villafaña’s growth defensively.

According to, Jorge Villafaña successfully tackled 45.7% of the dribblers he faced this season. While that might not seem high (Portland will decidedly not be remembered for its defensive prowess this season), it’s the second highest successful tackle percentage for a defender on the team behind only Marco Farfan. Plus, according to the numbers, Villafaña faced more attempted dribblers than anyone else on the team. That number is also his highest successful tackle percentage since his return to the Timbers in 2018.

All in all, Villafaña progressed defensively and became more and more stout as 2020 went on. He blocked 11 shots this season, second to only Larrys Mabiala and tied with Dario Zuparic. He also had the second most total blocks on the team, behind only the omnipresent Diego Chara. Any commentary that Villafaña is “only good as an attacker” starts to fall apart when you compare his defensive numbers with the rest of the squad.

With Jorge Villafaña set to turn 32 next season, it can be assumed that he will soon be entering the twilight of his career. Combine that with Portland apparently set to bring in a new left back next season, the amount of minutes Villafaña will play looks likely to decrease come 2021. This season may very well be the peak of what we we may see from him in a Timbers shirt.

But don’t let that detract you from all that we saw. Villafaña returned to the team in 2018 with another former player (Lucas Melano, in case you wiped that name from your brain), and like his counterpart, there was a moment when it didn’t look like it would work out the second time. But this season has proved that Villafaña can turn back the hands of time and put in a vintage season, cementing his status as a Timbers great.

2020 was so much more than just the goal and the saved penalty for Villafaña. It was one of career heights, achievement, and reminding everyone just how great El Sueño can be.