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What role will Tito Villalba play for Atlanta United in 2019?

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The Lion Tamer faces an uncertain season.

Atlanta United seem to have the secret roster recipe for MLS and their strict rules. Somehow, against all odds, they’ve compiled an uber-talented and deep squad of players that could conceivably field two different starting lineups. Unfortunately for players like Tito Villalba, who would be a guaranteed starter on literally any other MLS side, there are only 11 starting spots for each match.

During a brainstorming session for video ideas it was suggested that we pick a cool moment from Atlanta United’s first two seasons and focus on it. The first idea that popped into my head was the story of how Tito Villalba became “The Lion Tamer”. There’s just something special about Tito. Every time he has the ball it feels like he could do something remarkable. On several occasions he has done just that.

Whether it’s using his extraordinary right foot to smash a long range shot into the top corner, a slick left footed finish that dashes Red Bulls dreams or a devastating dribble around defenders, Tito has the knack for the spectacular.

Tito’s greatest sin as an Atlanta United player is having talented teammates. While he entered the ATL as the club’s first-ever DP, he’s since been surpassed by four different DP signings. Last season’s cup run was special, but something felt a little tragic about Tito playing a reserve role. Yes, he played a crucial part in scoring the third goal to effectively eliminate the Red Bulls, but him having very little impact on the final was unfortunate.

With Miguel Almiron leaving and Pity Martinez arriving, not much has changed for him. He’s still the fourth wheel in presumably a three-man attacking line. This isn’t to say that Tito won’t play an important part this season, just that right now the prospects for a starring role look bleak. As much as we’d like to believe that he’s content to be a super sub, human nature would lead us to believe that he wants more than that.

Transfer rumors have begun to spread. Many a’ club out there would be lucky to have him in their lineups. The hard truth about MLS is that not every player can be paid what they deserve. As Tito’s contract runs down and the club unable to use a DP slot on him, it could make sense to shop him around in order to get value while you can.

No one knows what the future for Villalba in Atlanta holds. All we can do is wait and see how Frank de Boer plans on using him. What we do know is that he’s been a treat to watch for the last two seasons. In 20 or 30 years they’ll still be talking about the two-game stretch in 2017 when Tito Villalba tamed the Lions and won a place in our hearts. Let’s enjoy him while he’s here.