Following the recent victory over NYCFC, some suggested that Frank de Boer had fielded Atlanta United’s strongest starting XI.
In the post-match interview, de Boer commented on the quality of the starting lineup but dismissed the idea that it was Atlanta’s strongest. He spoke on the importance of the entire team and suggested that there are always opportunities to make changes and improve, especially from the bench.
Despite being eligible for selection from the bench, a notable absentee was Tito Villalba. The winger/forward who recently returned from injury and featured off the bench in the side’s US Open Cup semi final win over Orlando failed to make an appearance in both of the team’s last two wins over NYCFC and Club America.
De Boer, who made just two substitutes during the game vs. NYCFC, noted that Villalba would have gotten minutes in the game — replacing Josef Martinez — but once NYCFC scored he felt it was a risk to take the forward off due to his importance in helping Atlanta defend set pieces.
With nine games in the regular season left to play and the U.S. Open Cup final later this month, rotation and squad depth will play a pivotal role. We saw how deep Atlanta’s squad is in the Campeones Cup, where the team was able to win in dominant fashion despite five changes from the side that played NYCFC.
Before his injury in the match against the New York Red Bull’s, Villalba had appeared in 13 of Atlanta’s first 15 fixtures of the season, starting eight and coming off the bench five times. In each of the five times he appeared off the bench it was to replace Pity Martinez. With players like Justin Meram, Emerson Hyndman, and Dion Pereira all proving their quality and ability to start games or feature as strong substitutes, it will be interesting to see how de Boer uses the fan-favorite. Atlanta United has an important run of fixtures over the next month, and the team will surely want Villalba to hit good form before the MLS Cup playoffs arrive.