PORTLAND, Ore. - Portland Timbers defender Jorge Villafaña is not afraid of putting in the hard work.
After being acquired in a trade by the Timbers before the start of last season, Villafaña found himself having to battle for a place in the starting XI.
"I came to a team that was already formed," Villafaña told the Oregonian in July last year. "They had a base…but when you get your chance you have to take the opportunity and just show what you have and play your best."
Midway through the 2014 season, Villafaña finally got his chance, coming in as a second-half substitute during the Timbers' 3-3 draw with Columbus Crew SC.
He went on to start eight matches in a row for the Timbers, even scoring his first goal of the season against the LA Galaxy in a 2-2 road draw. But his favorite moment last season came in his May 28 return to the Home Depot Center, a match that the Timbers won 2-0 over Chivas USA.
"It was weird playing there because I spent most of my career with Chivas USA," said Villafaña who recorded an assist in that match.
Having finally secured a spot in the starting lineup, Villafaña wasn't about to let it go. In the 17 games that Villafaña started in 2014, the Timbers were 8-4-5. His ability to bomb forward into the attack and track back in defense played a critical role in the Timbers' midseason evolution. Moreover, his role in the backline has helped contribute to the club’s ongoing streak of having not allowed a goal in 394 minutes dating back to last season.
But throughout his entire nine-year MLS career, Villafaña has time and again persevered against the odds.
In 2007, the then-17 year-old Villafaña participated in Sueño MLS, a nationally-televised reality show following scores of young Latino players as they competed to make an MLS roster. To his surprise, Villafaña won the competition and earned himself a spot on the Chivas USA roster.
"There were almost 2,000 kids there at the Sueño tryout," Villafaña remembered. "I wasn't that nervous because I actually wasn't thinking of going. I went the last day of open tryouts.
"I was like, 'OK, let's just tryout and see what happens. I went without me thinking of doing something."
The teenaged Villafaña began with Chivas USA’s academy, played his way onto the reserves, and then finally earned his chance with the first team. Though he made his MLS debut in 2007, he became a regular for the Goats in 2011 playing in 25 matches (24 starts). In 2013, Villafaña played in 20 matches (15 starts) contributing a goal along with a career high four assists.
Near the end of 2013, the Timbers acquired Villafaña through a trade that reunited the defender with his one-time U.S. U-23s national team coach: Caleb Porter. Still, transitioning from Southern California, the place he had called home for most of his life, to the Pacific Northwest was difficult at first. Villafaña credited teammates Diego Chara and Diego Valeri for helping him adjust to his new home.
"It's been good," he said of the transition. "Portland is a great city and a great team. The atmosphere every game is amazing.
"It's an honor to be playing here in Portland."