When Tito Villalba departed San Lorenzo and joined Atlanta United as its first designated player, he left behind a club that he had grown up with, first watching as a child growing up in Buenos Aires’ Villa 1-11-14 neighborhood and then joining its academy as a ten-year-old. After being promoted to the senior team and spending four seasons there, he made history as Atlanta’s first-ever DP.
What a decision it was.
Villalba quickly became a cornerstone player for Atlanta in its inaugural season, being known for his speed out wide and his blistering goals. He finished the regular season tied for seventh in assists and, while not a consistent goal threat, still finished with double digits in that category. One thing that may get lost in all that is his durability, as he was one of only thirteen position players in MLS to appear in every single match for his club and one of just six to start all 34 matches.
Player Stats: 34 Games Played, 13 Goals, 11 Assists
What went right this season: He has brilliant speed and ball skills, often saving possessions with his control and dribbling ability. Also, I can’t say enough about that shot. Ask Orlando or Montreal what happens when you give the youngster too much space to attempt a strike. Villalba himself said after the away match at Orlando that his game winner there was the closest goal he’s scored to his famous one with San Lorenzo against Racing Club in 2013.
What went wrong this season: While Villalba was a big part of Atlanta’s scoring attack in 2017, his defense on the other end could use some work. I thought as well that his crossing - although not completely awful - his possession, and his vision could use some improvement in key moments.
What needs to improve in 2018? I would probably have to say his overall awareness. While he does have a cannon for a shot, he needs to play within himself and recognize when to take it and when to help the attack build more. Also, he needs to not try to force plays when they aren’t there, which ties into the bit about overall awareness.
What role will he play in 2018? Don’t expect Villalba’s overall role to change much next year. I do expect the club to get depth at the striker role so the club will not need to utilize him at that spot if Martinez were to go down to injury like he did this year.