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Atlanta United’s Tito Villalba out with knee injury, will miss Copa America

Villalba will miss at least two games for Atlanta and next month’s tournament in Brazil.

Atlanta United forward Hector Villalba (15) controls the ball during the second half against the New York Red Bulls at Red Bull Arena.
May 19, 2019; Harrison, NJ, USA; Atlanta United forward Hector Villalba (15) controls the ball during the second half against the New York Red Bulls at Red Bull Arena. (Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports)

MARIETTA, Ga. — Héctor “Tito” Villalba will miss Atlanta United’s Wednesday game against Minnesota United and is expected to sit out Atlanta’s Saturday meeting with the Chicago Fire, manager Frank de Boer said Tuesday. Villalba is recovering from a knee injury sustained during Atlanta’s 1-0 loss at the New York Red Bulls on May 19.

The injury cost Villalba a spot on the Paraguay men’s national team roster for next month’s Copa America in Brazil. La Albirroja announced the 23-player squad, sans Villalba, Wednesday afternoon. 

De Boer told reporters Tuesday Paraguay manager Eduardo Berizzo wanted Villalba “to join the team,” but the player had been significantly limited in the week since sustaining the injury. “We, as Atlanta United, and the Paraguayan federation are going to make a decision for that,” de Boer said.

An Atlanta United spokesperson told Pro Soccer USA he was unsure whether de Boer requested Villalba’s exclusion from the Paraguay team. “Heavily doubt we asked him to be held back, though.”

Villalba did not travel for Atlanta’s 2-1 loss at Real Salt Lake on Friday, and he did not train with the first team Tuesday. Dion Pereira started in Villalba’s spot on the left wing — his full debut with the team — and played 78 minutes against RSL. Pereira connected on 20-of-26 passes, and he struggled to influence the game as Atlanta struggled to build attacking moves in possession. The 20-year-old Englishman has excelled taking on defenders one-v-one in his substitute appearances this year but was unsuccessful on the one dribble he attempted. He did not record a shot.

Pereira made way for Justin Meram, Atlanta’s recent acquisition from the Columbus Crew. When de Boer first announced news of Villalba’s injury last week, he mentioned both players as potential replacements.

Villalba has played in 11 Major League Soccer games this season, starting nine. He has one goal and three assists in 726 minutes. 

“Tito’s going well, but it’s a delicate injury,” de Boer said. “A lot of times you think, ‘OK, I’m OK.’ Outside ligament on your knee, and when you make a sudden movement, it can happen again, so we have to be very precautious for that injury. We look for week-to-week, but now it’s too early for him.”

In other Atlanta United injury news, fullback Mikey Ambrose, who suffered a torn right meniscus in April, is fit and available for selection. Midfielder Kevin Kratz played 45 minutes with Atlanta United 2 over the weekend as part of his recovery from a calf injury. Kratz is not yet ready to re-join the first team.

Updated with information regarding Villalba’s exclusion from the Paraguay men’s national team.

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