- By Doug Roberson The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Some of Atlanta United’s fans aren’t the only ones who miss midfielder Yamil Asad, who returned to Velez Sarsfield in Argentina after his one-year loan ended.
Asked if he missed Asad on Tuesday, midfielder Hector Villalba provided as much insight as he has to perhaps any question he’s been asked since becoming the team’s first Designated Player in July, 2016. The two are best friends, and would share their exploits in Atlanta on social media last season.
“Yes. It hurts,” Villalba said. “It hurts because I have a good relationship with him just like I do with other teammates. That’s what the life of a soccer player is like. One day you are here, the next you never know.”
Villalba said he and Asad were friends before they both played well for Atlanta United last season. Villalba finished with 13 goals and 11 assists and Asad scored seven goals with 13 assists. Both scored some famous goals: Asad the first in team history and Villalba’s screamer against Orlando City was named the MLS goals of the year.
Villalba spent a few minutes on Tuesday answering more questions about last year and his expectations for this season:
Q. How did you spend your offseason?
A. Trained, spent time with the family and friends.
Q. How do you hope to improve this year? What’s the No. 1 thing for you?
A. Just to maintain everything that we’ve been doing because we are on a good path right now.
Q. What’s your comfort level his year with being in the U.S. and with the team?
A. I never felt uncomfortable. From the very first day, all my teammates the coaching staff and the team made me feel comfortable.
Q. What can you tell people about Franco Escobar?
A. Nothing yet. I’m just getting to know him every day.
Q. You didn’t know him in Argentina?
A. I had seen him play, but never met him personally.
Q. What about Ezequiel Barco?
A. The same. I’ve seen him play. Don’t know him personally. I watched the final against Flamengo. He’s a good player.
Q. The team scored 70 goals last season. You’ve added Nagbe, added Barco, what’s the ceiling for the offense this year?
A. First, just to get Barco join the team smoothly, as well as the rest of the signings. Just to get those guys incorporated as best we can.
And, hopefully it can be like last year where we are fighting at the top of the league.
Q. How many goals are possible?
A. Possibly, hopefully more than we scored last year.
Q. What are your personal and team goals this year?
A. As a team, to win the league.
Individually, to keep improving, score goals and add assists.
Q. How long did the green card take and what are your thoughts on it?
A. A long time. I don’t know exactly but I’d say more than a year. Maybe a little more.
Q. Did you have to think about it or a lot, or was it ‘this makes sense?’
A. No, from the first moment they told me about it I decided I wanted to do it.
Q. What was your reception like when you went home?
A. Very good, very good. Everyone treated me really well. I spoke to a lot of people I knew who asked what the league was like, what the demands were here. They’ve all seen that I’ve grown a lot as a player. I added a lot as a player.