David Villa: “My experience here was amazing. It gave me everything as a soccer player, as a person, and as a family man. I’ll always remember this experience with love. My heart is here and I’m an NYCFC supporter forever.” (Keith Furman/FrontRowSoccer.com Photo)

By Michael Lewis
FrontRowSoccer.com Editor

Man, talk about a tough act to follow.

We’re talking about one David Villa, whose contract with New York City FC runs out Monday, Dec. 31.

Instead, the 37-year-old striker has signed a contract with Vissel Kobe in Japan.

Villa, the team’s captain since it kicked it first soccer ball in competition as an expansion team in 2015, scored a team-record 80 goals in 124 MLS matches.

“I can only say thank you, thank you to everybody,” Villa said. First, to City Football Group that gave me the opportunity to come here. To NYCFC and MLS for accepting me. To everybody at the club who helped me day-by-day.

“Thank you to the people in the offices, the people working with the team and the coaches and staff. Thank you to my teammates – without them it would have been impossible to be successful. Thank you to the people working in the media that always gave me the respect and the love.

“Obviously, our fans. I remember the first day I showed the jersey and the supporters were there. I would have liked to give the supporters the MLS Cup, but I don’t have any doubts that in the next years the club will get it for sure.

“My experience here was amazing. It gave me everything as a soccer player, as a person, and as a family man. I’ll always remember this experience with love. My heart is here and I’m an NYCFC supporter forever.”

Interestingly, there were no comments from NYCFC head coach Domenec Torrent made available to the media about Villa’s departure Nov. 28.

Marty Edelman, then in his role as NYCFC vice chairman, praised his former striker.

“David Villa encompasses the values that we have here at New York City FC. The impact he has had on not only this club, but in this City, cannot be measured in just goals or assists,” he said.

“We thank David for helping us build NYCFC and wish him the very best moving forward. It’s been a memorable and historic first four seasons with David at the helm. We are proud of the milestones we’ve reached together which have set the foundation for the Club which will continue to grow for years to come.”

Villa was one of three high-profile signings by the team, joining the club prior to former Italian World Cup champion Andrea Pirlo and England international Frank Lampard.

In fact, the Spaniard was the first signing by NYCFC, coming aboard June 2, 2014 after completing some time with Atletico Madrid in Spain’s La Liga. He joined the team as a World Cup champion (2010) and European champion (2008) as well.

In his first season with City, Villa was one of the few shining stars of an abysmal maiden season, connecting for 17 goals. He enjoyed his best MLS season in 2016, scoring 23 times while earning league MVP honors. He added 24 goals across all competition in 2017, inlcuding a hat-trick in a 3-2 triumph over the Red Bulls in the Hudson River Derby at Yankee Stadium.

Villa struggled through injuries this past season with his poorest production of his four-year tenure, tallying 15 goals in 23 starts.

“David has been an incredible ambassador and captain to this club since the moment we signed him,” NYCFC sporting director Claudio Reyna said. “His professionalism and leadership helped us through the challenges that a new team faces when they come into the league. He’s represented New York City FC tremendously both on and off the pitch and has been a real leader for this football club.

“I truly believe that David will be remembered as one of the best players to ever play in MLS. He will forever be a legend amongst all of our wonderful supporters and everyone here at NYCFC wishes David nothing but the best in the remainder of his career. He will always be a part of NYCFC.”

So, trying to find a replacement — a proper replacement — will be a difficult task for NYCFC. The team will need someone in a high orbit who can fill the net on a regular basis.

Good luck.

Front Row Soccer editor Michael Lewis has covered 13 World Cups (eight men, five women), seven Olympics and 25 MLS Cups. He has written about New York City FC, New York Cosmos, the New York Red Bulls and both U.S. national teams for Newsday and has penned a soccer history column for the Guardian.com. Lewis, who has been honored by the Press Club of Long Island and National Soccer Coaches Association of America, is the former editor of BigAppleSoccer.com. He has written seven books about the beautiful game and has published ALIVE AND KICKING The incredible but true story of the Rochester Lancers. It is available at Amazon.com.