Atlanta United had a lot to celebrate after Hector "Tito" Villalba's goal on Sunday that put Atlanta United FC up by three against D.C. United. However, it was the Argentinian forward's celebration that left some fans cringing.
Villalba, 23, headed in a cross in the 75th minute. Atlanta United went on to win its first game of the season 3-1 after losing its season opener.
After the goal, Villalba went towards the corner to celebrate. He proceeded to hold an imaginary gun with two hands. It looked like he fired the imaginary weapon into the crowd. He was standing near the Supporters Section. He did it for a few seconds before his teammates came to greet him.
To many, this seemed like an insensitive celebration with recent tragedies and mass shooting in mind, such as the recent shooting at Stoneman Douglas in Florida where 17 students and teachers were killed. It could be seen as ill-timed considering the ubiquitous threats nationwide at schools and various locations, including stadiums, involving guns.
There were some on social media that weren't pleased with the celebration.
On Tuesday, 11Alive asked Villalba why he decided to celebrate that way. He said he was mimicking a celebration by a Uruguayan soccer player Rodrigo Mora from River plate in Argentina. Mora is one of Villalba's favorite players.
"He’s a player I admire a lot for his movement, and I try and mimic him. And that’s how he celebrates his goals so I kind of take after him and some of the things I try and do on the field in terms of my movement and skill set. So that’s why I did it," Villalba said through the team's translator.
After the goal, Atlanta United officials spoke to the young player about the celebration. He said he will not do it again.
"I understand," Villalba said when asked if he understood why some may find the goal insensitive. "I don’t understand politics in my country, let alone in the U.S. That’s not how I intended it to be, and if I offended anyone, I’m sorry."
The MLS referees did not issue a card for the celebration. MLS follows FIFA's rules regarding celebrations. There isn't much in the rule book regarding the subject, however it does make a point to say players will be warned or booked for making "gestures which are provocative, derisory or inflammatory when celebrating a goal."
In 2014, Edinson Cavani was booked after making a gun gesture in during a goal celebration. He was given a yellow card and was eventually given a red card for arguing with the ref.
Villalba joined Atlanta United last year for its inaugural season. He started 34 games last season and scored 14 goals.