2. Franco Escobar/Hector Villalba
Both of these players need to be watched on Thursday night. Both Franco Escobar and Hector Villalba have dealt with injuries all season long and finally got to reap the rewards of their hard work during the first leg. Escobar scored a beautiful goal to double Atlanta’s advantage late in the game and Villalba put the match away with a powerful goal deep into stoppage time.
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Escobar has rapidly improved over the course of the season, despite missing large chunks of time with injury. He has found good form of late, at least for the most part. He scored his first career professional goal back on October 21 against Chicago and has been solid defensively in the four matches since.
The only negative thing to watch for with Escobar is his tendency to commit mental errors. The biggest example of this is NYCFC’s lone goal during the Eastern Conference semi-final series. Escobar failed to mark his opposing man properly and that led to the goal.
As for Villalba, he is a must-watch player due to his ability to kill games and embarrass opponents. On Sunday night against New York, Villalba did find the net in stoppage time, but he nearly had a goal just minutes earlier. He seemed to phase through two Red Bulls defenders before hitting the near post. He regrouped though and hit a lovely strike into the bottom corner to secure the third goal.
Villalba has not played much this season unfortunately. When he does play though, he is a force to be reckoned with. Through 1,844 game minutes this season (including the playoffs), Villalba is averaging a goal or assist every 108 minutes. This is compared to his strong season in 2017, where he averaged a goal or assist every 120 minutes. Even if it is from only off the bench, he will play a part on Thursday.