Hector Villalba - Carlos Bocanegra - Atlanta United - July 22, 2016

ATLANTA – They're up to seven and counting. That's how many players Atlanta United FC have under contract ahead of their 2017 expansion season following Friday's announcement that Hector "Tito" Villalba would be joining from San Lorenzo in Argentina. 

Atlanta United have been one of the busiest MLS clubs during the current summer transfer window, but the Villalba signing has been in the works for a while.

“Last October [2015], a long time ago, he came across my desk,” said ATLUTD technical director Carlos Bocanegra. Soon after, Bocanegra began visiting with Villalba in Argentina – meeting him in person and watching him play, leaving impressed with his versatility, high-energy and pace.

“He scores goals in a variety of ways. He can also deliver a cross into the box. He’s a good weapon in that he can hit you from a lot of different angles.”

Argentina has proven fertile ground for MLS clubs in search of game-breaking attacking talent and flair. Bocanegra believes the similarities in the styles of play between MLS and the Argentine league are a big reason why the imports from the South American nation have experienced so much success.

“We’re stepping into a worldwide scouting network. You see a few players in the league like [Ignacio] Piatti (Montreal Impact) and [Diego] Valeri (Portland Timbers), Argentinean guys that transitioned very well into this league,” Bocanegra said.

“The league down there is very physical, it’s very fast. He [Villalba] has had about 100 games for his club team [San Lorenzo] already, first-team games, which is incredible at his age [21], in that league down there.”

While the seven players signed by Atlanta have been more attack-minded acquisitions, Bocanegra, who's a former defender, made it a point to explain that "defenders are going to be in the pipeline." But the post that could be filled next is the one on the bench as Atlanta close in on their manager. 

“Anytime we’re ready to pull the trigger," Bocanegra said. "We’ve got it down to a short list now. So, it’ll be coming.” 

The coach Atlanta eventually hires will already have seven players to work with.

“We feel pretty confident a coach will come in and be quite happy with him," Bocanegra said in reference to Villalba. "Same with Kenwyne [Jones]. Same with Chris [McCann].”