CARSON, CA - AUGUST 23:  David Villa #7 of New York City FC scores on a penalty kick against Los Angeles Galaxy during the second half at StubHub Center August 23, 2015, in Carson, California. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
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Exclusive: David Villa talks 2017 MLS season, La Liga title race and more

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When David Villa arrived in New York City over two years ago the Spanish international was tasked with not only re-defining his playing career but also given the opportunity to help shape one of Major League Soccer’s newest franchises.

In just two full seasons in MLS, Villa has quickly established himself as one of the most successful additions to league in the Designated Player Era while also carrying NYCFC past several of its goals up until this point.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

The 35-year-old has racked up 41 goals in 62 league appearances for the Bronx side, tied with New York Red Bulls striker Bradley Wright-Phillips for the most in MLS since 2015.

In addition to his many talents on the soccer field, Villa is also an ambassador for go90 Soccer — where fans can stream matches from the top leagues live, legally, and without hidden fees or traditional subscriptions.

Go90 has also released a new instant highlights feature which can be found at @go90Sports on Twitter.

As part of his work with go90, Villa recently selected his top seven moments from the La Liga season over the first half of the season (all can be found below).

[ Villa’s picks: No. 1, No. 2, No. 3, No. 4, No. 5, No. 6, No. 7 ]

Pro Soccer Talk recently caught up with the former Barcelona attacker for an exclusive interview where he discussed his thoughts on the La Liga title race, his hopes for NYCFC during the upcoming season and much more.

Having played for several of Spain’s top sides in the past, including the Blaugrana and Atletico Madrid, Villa is no stranger to the rigors of competition in one of Europe’s top divisions.

Real Madrid currently holds a slim gap at the summit of La Liga, and Villa expects the race to continue down a narrow path until the very end of the current campaign.

“Of course, Real Madrid is having a great season, but with many matches to play, I’m sure that Sevilla, Barcelona and even Atletico de Madrid are going to fight hard for make things difficult for them,” Villa told PST.

“All the teams [in La Liga] play good soccer and the competition is very demanding. If you lose a couple of games you may not win the title and you’re also in danger of relegation.”

Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images

While his past endeavors in Spain were what made Villa the superstar name that has become known in households around the globe, the recent storm the veteran has brought to MLS has immediately put NYCFC on the map.

After having fallen short of the postseason in 2015, the club turned things around in a major way during its second season in MLS by not only qualifying for the playoffs but also earning a first-round bye in the Eastern Conference.

In addition to his team’s achievements, Villa was named MLS MVP after netting 23 goals and adding four assists for Patrick Vieira’s side.

For Villa though, his personal accolades have always taken a back seat to the overall success of the team that he represents.

“For me, the most important goal is to win collective titles with my team,” Villa told PST. “I will continue playing the best I can, and it would be great if finally I reach the golden boot, or the MVP, but it doesn’t make sense for me if we don’t perform well as a team.”

“Last year we improved a lot as a team and this season we need to continue growing. This is the third year of the team and we continue being a very young club, but NYCFC was born to win. We want to go one step further and try to compete for winning titles this season.

Villa also discussed his willingness to serve as the captain for NYCFC and his ability to set an example for the rest of the squad.

“During all my career I have enjoyed winning matches and titles. This is what I like much to do and is what I’m going to keep doing. I work every day to stay fit and try to help the team in the pitch and also outside the field.”

Much of NYCFC’s success of the club’s success in its brief existence can be traced to Villa’s contributions, however, in order for the team to take the next leap the Spaniard will need some assistance from the rest of the squad.

ORLANDO, FL - MARCH 08: David Villa #7 of New York City FC is seen during an MLS soccer match between the New York City FC and the Orlando City SC at the Orlando Citrus Bowl on March 8, 2015 in Orlando, Florida. This was the first game for both teams and the final score was 1-1.(Photo by Alex Menendez/Getty Images)
Photo by Alex Menendez/Getty Images

With second-leading goalscorer Frank Lampard no longer on the team, young players like Jack Harrison, Khiry Shelton and first-round draft pick Jonathan Lewis will be expected to carry a significant load in 2017.

Over the offseason, NYCFC has lost five regular starters from last year, including Lampard, Andoni Iraola and goalkeeper Josh Saunders, but Villa isn’t concerned about the squad’s current makeup and insists that he has confidence in the current crop of players.

“We trust our sporting director [Claudio Reyna] and all the technical staff and also feel confident as we are adding interesting new players to the roster,” Villa said. “The most important thing is to have a strong team, and we are going to be better with hard work in the preseason, and likely with other new players to come before March.

The mantra for the club over recent months has been that youth will be the key for Vieira’s team moving forward, and NYCFC’s latest roster proves that.

Vieira’s group features just three players over the age of 30, two of whom serve as Designated Players (Villa and Andrea Pirlo).

“Most importantly this year, we are going to add more young players in the roster,” Villa said. “They are hungry to succeed and I’m sure that we are going to watch some good performances for these young players.”

LIVE: UCL last 16 – Leicester face Sevilla; Juve head to Porto

LEICESTER, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 05:  Jamie Vardy of Leicester City applauds the crowd in defeat after the Premier League match between Leicester City and Manchester United at The King Power Stadium on February 5, 2017 in Leicester, England.  (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
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Two more UEFA Champions League Round of 16 first legs take place on Wednesday.

[ LIVE: Champions League scores

Leicester City of the Premier League head to Spain to face Sevilla in the UCL last 16 despite Claudio Ranieri‘s men battling for survival in the Premier League. The Foxes, as always, are the big underdogs in Spain as Sevilla have won the UEFA Europa League in each of the past three seasons and Jorge Sampaoli’s side are battling for the title in La Liga.

As for Leicester, they’re just two points off the bottom of the PL as they haven’t scored in their last six outings and have lost five on the spin as well as being dumped out of the FA Cup by third-tier Millwall at the weekend. So yeah, Sevilla head into this game as the heavy favorites and will hope to take a healthy lead to the King Power Stadium with them in two weeks time.

In the other UCL clash on Wednesday FC Porto host Juventus as the Portuguese and Italian giants collide at the Estadio do Dragao. Porto finished behind Leicester in the group stage, while Juv battled it out with Sevilla and clinched top spot. Massimiliano Allegri’s men remain top of Serie A and will look to Gonzalo Higuain to deliver the goals away from home. It promises to be an intriguing tactical battle in northern Portugal.

Click on the link above to follow live commentary on both games, while we will have reaction and analysis on all of the UCL knockout games here at Pro Soccer Talk.


Wednesday’s UCL Round of 16, first legs

Sevilla vs. Leicester City – 2:45 p.m. ET
FC Porto vs. Juventus – 2:45 p.m. ET

Man United’s stroll at Saint-Etienne comes at a cost

SAINT-ETIENNE, FRANCE - FEBRUARY 22:  Jose Mourinho, manager of Manchester United looks on before the UEFA Europa League Round of 32 second leg match between AS Saint-Etienne and Manchester United at Stade Geoffroy-Guichard on February 22, 2017 in Saint-Etienne, France.  (Photo by Christopher Lee/Getty Images)
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Manchester United beat Saint-Etienne 1-0 in their UEFA Europa League Round of 32 second leg clash on Wednesday, but Jose Mourinho will be more concerned by injuries picked up ahead of the EFL Cup final on Sunday.

[ MORE: Mkhitaryan, Carrick injury updates ] 

The Red Devils advanced to the last 16 of Europe’s second-tier club competition after a resounding 4-0 win on aggregate against the Ligue 1 side but with goalscorer Henrikh Mkhitaryan hobbling off in the first half and Michael Carrick removed in the second half, Mourinho will have some injury problems to sort out ahead of this weekends final against Southampton at Wembley.

Eric Bailly was sent off for two quick yellow cards in the second half but that didn’t impact the outcome as United cruised into the Round of 16 which will be drawn on Friday.

United have now lost just one of their last 25 games in all competitions. They are well and truly on a roll.

[ MORE: Europa League scoreboard ] 

United controlled the early stages and went ahead after 15 minutes when Juan Mata picked the ball up on the left flank, drifted inside and picked out Mkhitaryan’s run as the Armenian playmaker flicked home. 1-0 to United on the night as the Red Devils led 4-0 on aggregate.

Mata again got free down the left in the first half and his cross hit two Saint-Etienne defenders and almost went in, while Mkhitaryan hobbled off soon after clutching his hamstring.

With Marcus Rashford coming on for Mkhitaryan, he almost made it 2-0 as Ashley Young‘s cross just evaded him. At the other end Saint-Etienne barely threatened as Loic Perrin sent a tame header in on goal which Sergio Romero saved easily.

In the second half United spurned good chances as Marouane Fellaini fired into the side-netting with teammates wide-open and then Paul Pogba went down in the box easily under a challenge. Zlatan Ibrahimovic then fired a shot just wide after another good break from Rashford as United dominated proceedings with link-up play between Pogba and Ibrahimovic imperious.

Carrick was then taken off with Bastian Schweinsteiger coming on in his place as it appeared that United’s veteran midfielder had a calf issue.

Bailly was then shown two quick yellow cards around the hour mark (he will miss their next European game) which saw United play out the game with 10-men and that buoyed the home side slightly.

However, United coasted through to the last 16 with Rashford and Ibrahimovic going close to doubling their lead late on in front of a raucous home crowd.

Vietnamese players banned for two years after penalty protest

INCHEON, SOUTH KOREA - SEPTEMBER 19:  Flag bearer, Hoang Quy Phuoc of Vietnam arrives during the Opening Ceremony ahead of the 2014 Asian Games at Incheon Asiad Main Stadium on September 19, 2014 in Incheon, South Korea.  (Photo by Brendon Thorne/Getty Images)
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The Vietnamese Football Federation has imposed two-year bans on two players and suspended a coach for three years after their team was involved in a bizarre penalty protest during a league match on the weekend.

[ MORE: China or MLS for Rooney? ]

Long An players were furious at a late penalty awarded by referee Nguyen Tr?ng Thu to Ho Chi Minh City when the score was locked 2-2 late Sunday.

After initially walking off the pitch, the players returned to the field but goalkeeper Nguyen Minh Nhut turned his back as the penalty was taken, conceding a goal.

The whole team then stood motionless and allowed Ho Chi Minh City to score two more goals as the margin blew out to 5-2.

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In a statement, the VFF said that Mimh Nhut and captain Huynh Quang Thanh would banned for 24 months, “Due to disrupting the match, not respecting the decision of the referee and causing damage to the reputation and honor of the Vietnam Football Federation.”

Coach Ngo Quang Sang has been banned for three years, as has club chairman Vo Thanh Nhiem, who quit following the game.

Zaza scores stunning goal for Valencia vs. Real Madrid

TURIN, ITALY - SEPTEMBER 23:  Simone Zaza (C) of Juventus FC celebrates after scring the opening goal during the Serie A match between Juventus FC and Frosinone Calcio at Juventus Arena on September 23, 2015 in Turin, Italy.  (Photo by Valerio Pennicino/Getty Images)
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Simone Zaza scored a stunner for Valencia against Real Madrid in La Liga.

Yes, that Simone Zaza.

[ LIVE: Stream every PL game live

The Italian international striker, 25, spent the best part of six months on loan at West Ham United this season and just didn’t look interested as he failed to score in 11 appearances in all competitions. That prompted Slaven Bilic and the Hammers to cancel his loan deal from Juventus and the forward then joined Valencia in La Liga in January.

Fans of West Ham will be scratching their heads when watching the video below as Zaza swiveled and smashed home a perfect volley to put Valencia 1-0 up against Real at the Mestalla on Wednesday.

Simply sublime.