The Armada FC, Jacksonville’s professional soccer team and the 13th club in the North American Soccer League, announced that Argentinian José Luis Villarreal will become the club’s first head coach. Villarreal will be charged with building the team’s roster and technical staff before coaching the Armada FC in its inaugural season in 2015.
“I am grateful to have this opportunity with the Armada FC and to help build a team from the ground up. I look forward to working with the leadership of the team to build a winning club, grow local talent, become a leader in the community and make our fans proud,” said Villarreal. “My wife, children and I are excited to be in Jacksonville. We have enjoyed exploring the city and believe it is one of the best-kept secrets in Florida. I look forward to working and raising my family here.”
Villarreal, a former professional soccer player, brings to Jacksonville nearly 30 years of experience between playing and coaching at the professional level for premier and world-renowned leagues across South America and Europe including Boca Juniors (Argentina), River Plate (Argentina), C.F. Pachuca (Mexico), Atlético Madrid (Spain) and Montpellier Hérault SC (France). Most recently, Villarreal served as deputy manager for Chilean club Colo-Colo, which plays in the Primera División. Colo-Colo has the most wins in Chilean first league history, with 30 titles, and has been in the top league since it was founded in 1925. In 2014, the club was crowned the champions of the Primera División spring season.
With the hiring of Villarreal, Armada FC general manager Dario Sala has delivered on his promise of hiring a head coach that will bring not only a level of expertise and style that is new to Jacksonville, but also strong connections to the international soccer community.
“José Luis has everything we are looking for in a head coach - passion, determination, playing experience, strong international connections and leadership. But most importantly, he has a desire to be in Jacksonville, grow our local talent and be a part of our community,” said Sala. “On the field, he will help set the Armada FC apart with his style of coaching and play. His aggressive, attack-style approach is not seen in the U.S. right now and will be a new dynamic for the NASL.”
Villarreal began his career at age 16 at the local club San Lorenzo de Las Flores in his hometown of Córdoba, Córdoba Province, Argentina. At age 20, Villarreal made the move to Club Atlético Belgrano in the Argentine second division. After playing two seasons with Club Atlético Belgrano, Villarreal signed with famed Argentine side Boca Juniors, where he spent the next five years of his career. During Villarreal’s time with Boca Juniors, the team won the 1992 Argentine Primera División championship. Also in 1992, Villarreal aided Argentina in raising the King Fahd Cup, which is now known as the FIFA Confederations Cup.
Following a brief period at Atlético Madrid, Villarreal returned to Argentina and joined River Plate from 1993-1995, where he was part of the squad that made history by winning the 1994 Argentine Primera División championship with zero losses.
In 1995, Villarreal joined French club Montpellier Hérault SC where he netted three goals in 29 appearances. Villarreal left Montpellier for C.F. Pachuca in Mexico for the 1997 season. After a series of reoccurring injuries, Villarreal returned to Argentina in 1998, where he played for an array of clubs including Estudiantes de La Plata and All Boys. In 2002, he returned to Club Atlético Belgrano, where he played until retiring in 2004.
From 2005 to 2007, Villarreal served as president of the Academy Rumbo has Excelencia y Deportiva Humana, where he was part of a team that recruited top South American talent including, most notably, Lionel Messi. The comprehensive educational academy placed an emphasis on advanced training programs that enabled the best South American footballers the opportunity to play in the best clubs in Europe.
Armada FC Owner Mark Frisch said that, in addition to possessing the skills necessary for the position, Villarreal also demonstrated the leadership quality needed to build a team from the ground up.
“From day one, our team has shared a goal of putting a winning team on the worldwide map,” said Frisch. “As a former player, coach and recruiter, José Luis’ approach to the game, worldwide experience, connections and passion for the sport will help us achieve that goal. His unmatched experience and leadership abilities make him the perfect person to help build the Armada FC.”
Armada FC President Steve Livingstone said that the club received resumes from qualified candidates across the world vying for the position, but that Villarreal’s experience and vision were the perfect fit.
“We were impressed by the amount of interest in our coaching position, which is a testament to Jacksonville’s and Armada FC’s emergence on the international soccer stage,” said Livingstone. “I am looking forward to seeing Dario and José Luis bring their vision to life on the field.”