Two months after being part of Cruz Azul’s winter raid on Major League Soccer, both Rafael Baca and José Villarreal find themselves in the Mexican second division, with the Mexico City-based club announcing the players have been sent to Cruz Azul Hidalgo – the club’s B-team which plays in the Liga de Ascenso.
Michael Farfan, who moved from the Philadelphia Union to Cruz Azul this December, will stay with the parent club, but for Baca and Villarreal, the reassignment becomes a setback. The Mexican-born Baca, who spent the last three seasons with the San Jose Earthquakes, was a starter in Major League Soccer before making the move to Mexico. The 20-year-old Villarreal, a product of LA Galaxy’s academy, made 22 appearances last season before going on loan to La Machina.
Through the first seven games of Cruz Azul’s Clausura season, none of Baca, Farfan, or Villarreal have made an appearance, with only Baca having dressed for Luis Fernando Tena’s squad. According to the club’s website, Baca and Villarreal make the move to the second division team in an attempt to help their adaptation process, with Cruz Azul hoping time training with Hidalgo coach Joaquín Moreno will improve each player’s “footballing rhythm.”
Undoubtedly, neither player moved south to play in the second tier, but for Baca, the move to Liga MX may have been motivated by more than competitive reasons. Moving south not only allowed him to return to the country of his birth but likely represented a financial decision. The 24-year-old made only $49,500 last year while starting 28 games for San Jose.
For Villarreal, a return to Los Angeles looks more likely by the day. Cruz Azul has an option to buy the U.S. U-20 international, which casts his move to the second-tier in a different light, but whereas once La Machina were once having Villarreal train with the A-team (and appear with the club’s U-20s), the Galaxy attacker has now, perhaps temporarily, been deemed more of a Hidalgo-level talent.