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’s Villalba ready to continue as super sub, if needed

Though he admits it hasn’t been easy coming off the bench, Atlanta United’s Hector Villalba said he’s ready to do so again if he’s not in the starting lineup for the MLS Cup.

“Of course it’s been difficult because I’m used to being a starter, but the most important thing is the team and for us to win this championship, so that’s my priority,” Villalba said in advance of Saturday’s game against Portland at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

Villalba, who started 21 games in 28 appearances with seven goals and nine assists during the regular season, has formed an effective partnership with Ezequiel Barco as super subs during the playoffs. Atlanta United manager Gerardo Martino said bringing them on is like adding another Josef Martinez and Miguel Almiron, who are the team’s two MVP candidates.

Villalba has come on as a sub in the four playoff games, scoring one goal on an astounding seven shots in 77 minutes.

“Whether you are coming off the bench or playing 90 minutes, it doesn’t matter, you have to be focused and just ready to go because you never know what’s going to happen,” Villalba said.

While Villalba has been a scoring threat, Barco has helped the defense by serving as a passing outlet to break an opponent’s pressure. Barco is a skilled dribbler and adept at winning fouls, which can give his team a few seconds to compose itself. After 19 starts in 26 appearances with four goals and three assists during the regular season, Barco has come off the bench for a total of 16 minutes, winning two fouls.

“We just try to take everything calmly and do everything the coach asks of us because that’s how we feel we can help the team,” Barco said.

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