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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.

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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.”

Lletget and Dos Santos send Galaxy through past Minnesota United

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The fans were buzzing at Allianz Field as Minnesota United got its first playoff campaign under way at home, but the jubilation didn’t last long as the LA Galaxy spoiled the party with a 2-1 win over the wasteful hosts. Sebastian Lletget and Jonathan dos Santos were on hand to lift the visitors on a night to forget for strikers on both sides.

Just seven minutes in the porous LA Galaxy defense parted beautifully for Minnesota, but the home side couldn’t capitalize. On the break a wonderful cross reached Angelo Rodriguez with the goal gaping, but he completely whiffed on the chance with Dave Bingham charging.

The home side produced much of the attacking intent through the first half-hour, and again nearly went in front as Robin Lod blasted over the bar with a glorious chance to smash home the opener. Bingham turned sweeper keeper to smother another chance minutes before the break as a ball long for Ethan Finlay got behind the Galaxy defense.

After the break, Minnesota again had a chance to go in front as Romain Metanire sent in a delicious ball in front of net, but Rodriguez couldn’t head on target, flailing at the ball and ending up with his back to the net when he made contact. The Galaxy’s best chance of the first hour fell to Zlatan Ibrahimovic who found himself all alone near the far post on a corner, but he too flubbed the chance, unable to make solid contact while instead sending the ball skittering out of play off the side of his foot.

With strikers on both sides struggling mightily to make the most of chances, the LA Galaxy went in front against the run of play. Christian Pavon found Zlatan all alone about six yards in front of net, and while his shot was blocked, the rebound fell right to the feet of a charging Lletget who deposited his chance in a game begging for a finish.

Ibrahimovic’s struggles continued as his one-on-one chance with Vito Mannone was smothered by the goalkeeper, but moments later Jonathan dos Santos produced a wonderful curler that Mannone couldn’t reach and put the Galaxy 2-0 up.

There was still hope for Minnesota as they got a consolation with four minutes to go as Jan Gregus pulled one back for the hosts with a vicious low strike that rocketed into the bottom corner for the first real moment of tenacity up front for Minnesota United. Unfortunately, that would be it for the visitors as they sent Mannone forward for a late corner but nothing came of it and the final whistle blew.

The Galaxy move on to a dream matchup with their neighbors LAFC, while Minnesota United falls for the first time in 13 home games and their season comes to an end.

Rumblings that Real Madrid has contact with Jose Mourinho

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Real Madrid sits second in the La Liga table and has only just lost its first league match of the season, but manager Zinedine Zidane is reportedly already on the hot seat.

With a loss to Mallorca this weekend adding to a pair of Champions League disappointments to start group stage play, Zidane’s status is in question. While there is nothing from the more concrete sources, Spanish tabloids have begun to whisper that the club has been in contact with former manager Jose Mourinho, as Florentino Perez has flirted multiple times with returning the Portuguese boss to the Spanish capital over the last 12 months.

El Churingito reports that with Zidane under pressure, Perez has reached out to Moruinho to judge his interest in the position. The two have a history, with Mourinho taking charge of the side from 2010-2013 before a mutual split after what Mourinho called “the worst [season] of my career.” The reports state that Mourinho has a great relationship with Perez which could convince him to return. Rumors of his return are not new, as two months ago another tabloid report claimed an eventual reunion was possible.

Mourinho has been out of the game since he left Manchester United in December, serving as a pundit in a number of different capacities. At Old Trafford, Mourinho was unable to help the Red Devils return to the glory days of Sir Alex Ferguson, plagued by negative tactics and inconsistent results.

This season, Madrid has fallen victim to poor defending and a lack of finishing. Luka Jovic has not enjoyed a flying start to his Madrid career, while Gareth Bale again has found himself injured. Raphael Varane was benched for the Mallorca match in favor of Eder Militao and Dani Carvajal was rested, but a seventh minute Lago Junior goal was enough to down the giants. Carvajal’s stand-in Alvaro Odriozola was sent off in the 74th minute, making things even more difficult. With the club failing to win either of its first two European matches against PSG and Club Brugge, the pressure has risen on Zidane despite his past successes with the club.

La Liga: Sevilla squeaks by Levante, La Real back to winning ways

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Real Sociedad put its two-game losing streak to bed and remained in the mix at the top of the La Liga table, turning around an early 1-0 deficit and winning 3-1 at home over Real Betis.

Lorenzo Moron scored 12 minutes in for the visitors, but a Javi Garcia own-goal leveled the score while Willian Jose and Portu sealed the three points. Martin Odegaard was fantastic again for La Real, constantly proving a threat in the buildup. Man of the Match, however, was Mikel Merino who was active in the midfield and popped up occasionally in the attacking third. The win pushes La Real up to fourth in the table, two points behind second-placed Real Madrid and three back of leaders Barcelona.

Sevilla was held for 86 minutes at home by Levante, but Luuk De Jong gave the hosts all three points as he rose high above Erick Cabaco to head home Jesus Navas’s cross from deep. Sevilla held over 60% possession throughout the match and racked up nine corners to Levante’s one, but didn’t create much in front of net until the final 15 minutes. Chicharito and De Jong both missed within two minutes of each other, and the latter eventually converted to push Sevilla to sixth in the La Liga table.

Alaves picked up a big three points over Celta Vigo with a 2-0 home win on second half goals from Lisandro Magallan and Lucas Perez. The visitors managed just two shots on target and had just one clear cut chance that Santi Mina failed to put on frame seconds out of halftime. Former Newcastle striker Joselu had a bad miss past the half-hour mark but proved a threat for much of the match, ripping off six shots on his own. Alaves also picked up five yellow cards in the match, but ultimately jumped out of the relegation zone and past Celta Vigo into 14th.

Villareal moved to seventh in the table with a 1-0 road victory at Espanyol. Cameroon international Karl Toko Ekambi scored his third goal of the season in the 17th minute and the visiting defense spoiled the Espanyol attack all game long. The hosts put forth 18 shots but managed to get just three of them on target. Santi Cazorla has been stellar all season for Villareal, and he went the full 90 minutes again, not adding much up front but proving a menace in midfield.

Athletic Club drew 1-1 with Real Valladolid as Inaki Williams put Athletic up just after the half-hour mark, but an Inigo Martinez own-goal pegged them back with 20 minutes to go. Athletic popped off 17 shots to Real Valladolid’s seven but Jordi Masip made six saves in net for Real Valladolid to spoil the home side’s day, leaving Athletic in eighth with 13 points.

Fabian downs Red Bulls in extra time, sends Philadelphia to conference semis

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A wild and wacky game saw Philadelphia come from two goals down to force extra time, and Marco Fabian bagged the eventual winner in the 105th minute to put the Union into the Eastern Conference semifinals with a 4-3 win. The victory is the first in playoff action for the Union in club history.

New York held a 3-1 advantage at halftime as Josh Sims, Tim Parker, and Tom Barlow all found the back of the net for the visitors in the opening 45 minutes, while Alejandro Bedoya found the back of the net himself.

After the break, things got even more wild. New York coughed up the lead, with Jack Elliott and Fabrice Picault each striking once despite a solid display from Red Bulls goalkeeper Luis Robles. With the game level, the final 15 minutes were all Philadelphia as the Eastern Conference three seed peppered New York’s penalty area, but Robles made a fabulous save on a Jamiro Monteiro effort from point blank range at the back post.

In extra time, Fabian found the back of the net with what appeared to be a chipped cross that took a slight deflection and snuck into the top corner from a tight angle.

The Union will get a matchup with Atlanta United in the semifinals, after Frank De Boer engineered a 1-0 win over New England.