Just two years after arriving in the United States and signing with then-expansion New York City FC, David Villa won MLS MVP honors.
When Spanish striker David Villa became the first-ever signing for New York City FC in 2014, many thought that he would take the league by storm. Along with Frank Lampard, who initially came that summer and, eventually, Andrea Pirlo in July 2015, NYCFC was supposed to have one of the most formidable, threatening attacks in MLS with Villa leading the way.
He is, if you will, the straw that stirs the drink.
In 2016, he was the straw, the ice cubes and the cherry on top. On Tuesday the now-35-year-old captain was named the MLS’ Most Valuable Player.
Villa scored 23 goals and tallied four assists in 2016, finishing second in the Golden Boot race and was a key part in NYCFC’s MLS playoff debut this year.
“I’m very proud to represent NYCFC and to receive this award,” said Villa on Tuesday’s MVP announcement. “It’s a big day for me because this is one of the things I said I wanted to do when I came here two years ago.
“I tried every day to show to the people with my body that I come here to be strong and competitive — to show that I want to grow my career and to follow through, to make history.”
He edged out both Red Bulls Bradley Wright-Phillips, who won the Golden Boot race, and Sacha Kljestan in the ballots. Villa tied both Wright-Phillips and Toronto FC’s Sebastian Giovinco in the media vote with 22.43 percent of the vote. Villa, however, did earn more than 25 percent of the player, club and average vote overall.
With the award, the Blues’ captain becomes the first-ever player for the club to win an individual league award and is the first World Cup winner and Spaniard to win MLS MVP.
Since his arrival in the Big Apple in 2015, Villa has scored the most goals of anyone in MLS with 41.
While the other candidates have had significant impacts on their respective clubs, none really had to carry a club the same way Villa has. Without another strong forward to partner with in the attacking third, Villa took the then-new club on his shoulders, helping guide them out of losing streaks and, as far as this season goes, into their playoff debut.
While other European stars have treated MLS like a retirement league, even initially (ie. Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard) Villa has embraced living and representing New York City and his play shows.
He looked a lot more comfortable in the attack and more comfortable in MLS as a whole. He adjusted his game to play more physical to match the physicality of the MLS game.
But more importantly, if you ask anyone in and around NYCFC, they’ll tell you that while Villa has had the pressure of captaining a big-time club in a demanding city like New York City, with just as demanding ownership, he’s done so with class and the same sense of grit that working class New Yorkers display on a daily basis.
(Just, don’t expect Villa to take the subway to the Bronx anytime soon.)
Villa may not spend a lifetime at New York City FC. However, his two-year span has given the club and its supporters memories that will last a lifetime.