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Tito Villalba doubtful for Atlanta United game at Real Salt Lake

Villalba sustained a minor knee injury against the New York Red Bulls.

MARIETTA, Ga. — Atlanta United winger Héctor “Tito” Villalba is doubtful for the team’s Friday game at Real Salt Lake, manager Frank de Boer said Wednesday. Villalba picked up a minor knee injury during Sunday’s 1-0 loss at the New York Red Bulls.

De Boer explained Villalba “obviously” sustained two knocks during the game at New York and has fluid on his knee. He described the Paraguay international as day-to-day. Villalba is the subject of a viral photograph from the Red Bulls game, clutching his knee as New York fullback Kemar Lawrence shouts down at him just before the final whistle. The two nearly came to blows following that moment.

Should Villalba not play against RSL, de Boer mentioned Dion Pereira and Justin Meram as possible replacements in the starting 11. 

“I think [Pereira] is knocking on the door,” de Boer said at the Children’s Healthcare Training Ground. “I think he is doing great. Now with Tito maybe out … it’s a possibility. Justin is also there. We [acquired] him because of that. We knew if something happens or [players leave for international duty], we have enough quality in our roster to put a very decent team on the pitch.”

De Boer will make a decision on Villalba before the team departs for Salt Lake City Wednesday afternoon.

Pereira has impressed in his substitute appearances this year. The 20-year-old Englishman played 26 minutes against New York and completed three-of-three dribbles successfully. He connected on 12-of-15 passes and showed confidence in attacking defenders one-v-one.

“I think Dion has actually played pretty well … coming into games, he’s done a good job.” Julian Gressel told reporters Wednesday. “It’s just a next-man-up mentality. I think we’ve said it all along that we need everybody, and we need those young guys that maybe haven’t played that many minutes to really step up.”

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