COLUMBUS, Ohio – For the first time since April 22, Atlanta United FC went on the road and got a win Saturday night.
The club went into MAPFRE Stadium for an Eastern Conference clash between two playoff contenders, and the visitors left with all three points thanks to Hector Villalba’s brace in a 2-0 win over host Columbus Crew SC.
But while Villalba was the night’s hero on the score sheet, he didn’t embrace the role after the match.
Villalba was substituted off in the 66th minute, without getting a chance to chase his first MLS hat trick. And the forward was furious after the game and chose not to stick around to talk to the media. Head Coach Gerardo "Tata" Martino smiled when asked about Villalba’s mood, and knew the night’s star wasn’t pleased about heading to the bench.
“He told me he didn’t want to come off, but he was starting to cramp up,” Martino said through a team translator. “In a game like this, I didn’t think it was worth risking him, especially because he had already given everything he had tonight.”
But Martino was happy to compliment his winger, who has moved around the field for Atlanta depending on injuries and where he’s most needed. Martino said that flexibility is important to his squad.
“Sometimes the situations make it necessary for us to move guys around, but we’re fortunate at the moment to have most of our team available,” he said. “So it’s good to have guys be able to play multiple positions.”
Villalba wasn’t the only Atlanta player who was unhappy to have finished the game on the bench. Striker Josef Martinez was substituted in the 82nd minute, and was visibly angry on the sideline.
That mentality is just fine with Martino, however.
“He’s a soccer player,” Martino said. “[Josef] is used to finishing his chances and he never wants to come off.”
And for Atlanta’s defensive unit, having a ravenous team of attackers is only a positive. Goalkeeper Alec Kann earned his first career assist from a long ball to Villalba, and said the way the team’s offense plays gives the defense confidence.
“They can all score at any moment; that helps our defense,” he said. “We know we’re going to score at some point, so if we keep a zero on the score sheet like we did tonight, we know we’re going to win.”