Nov 25, 2018 Atlanta: Atlanta United midfielder Hector Villalba reacts wanting more noise from the fans after scoring a goal for a 3-0 victory over the New York Red Bulls during the second half in their Eastern Conference finals MLS soccer game on Sunday, Nov. 25, 2018, in Atlanta. Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com
Photo: ccompton@ajc.com/Curtis Compton
Photo: ccompton@ajc.com/Curtis Compton

Atlanta United sale of Hector Villalba will be to Paraguay’s Club Libertad

Atlanta United is pursuing a possible sale of Hector Villalba to a team outside MLS, likely to a club in Paraguay, a person with knowledge of the situation said Tuesday. On Wednesday, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution learned the destination for Villalba is Parguay’s Club Libertad.

Villalba isn’t with the team at its camp in Bradenton, Fla. Villalba did travel with the team, but left camp Sunday.

According to the person, Villalba asked for guarantees of playing time this season because he wants to be selected to play for Paraguay in the Copa America. Those guarantees couldn’t be made.

Several offers were made for Villalba by other teams around the world in the offseason, according to the person.

Villalba was Atlanta United’s first Designated Player, signed from San Lorenzo in Argentina on July 22, 2016. The unveiling was marked by officials from the Argentina consulate in Atlanta on hand at a hotel in Atlanta.

Villalba didn’t disappoint in his first season, scoring 13 goals with 11 assists. He was one of a handful players in the league to reach double-digit totals in both categories. His contract was bought down after the season, turning him from a DP into a TAM player, to make way for Ezequiel Barco. Villalba had a guaranteed salary of $830,249.96, according to the Major League Soccer Players Association database.

May 12, 2019 Atlanta: Atlanta United forward Hector Villalba drives past Orlando City defender Alex De John during the second half in a 1-0 victory during a MLS soccer match on Sunday, May 12, 2019, in Atlanta. Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com
Photo: ccompton@ajc.com/Curtis Compton

Villalba followed that with seven goals and nine assists in 2018, but his appearance total fell from 34 to 28 and he lost his starting spot near the end of the season and in the playoffs because then-manager Gerardo Martino switched from a 4-3-3 formation to a 3-5-2.

Frank de Boer followed Martino and Villalba made only 20 appearances in 2019, a season in which he sustained several injuries that limited his availability.

Neither team vice president Carlos Bocanegra nor de Boer would comment Tuesday.

If sold, Villalba would follow the departures of Julian GresselDarlington Nagbe and Leandro Gonzalez Pirez from Atlanta.

Villalba was seen as a winger or second striker by de Boer. The team’s remaining players at those positions include Brooks Lennon, Jake Mulraney, Ezequiel Barco, Pity Martinez and Luiz Nascimento. 

Villalba was one of Atlanta United’s supporter’s favorite players because of his ties as the first DP, his speed, his courage to take on any defender, his movie-star looks and ability to score crucial goals in crucial games. His 30-yard strike against Orlando in 2017 was voted the MLS Goal of the Year.

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