No Atlanta United player had a more stop-start season than its Argentine young designated player Ezequiel Barco. But when the attacking midfielder was fit and available to play, his presence was certainly felt in the side. Atlanta United went 9-4-1 in MLS in the 14 games in which Barco started, but what’s striking is that after the team’s 2-1 loss to FC Dallas on April 19, Atlanta United was 9-1 when Barco started. The only loss thereafter was the one the ended Atlanta’s season at home against Toronto — a match they thoroughly dominated.
Position: Attacking midfielder
Games Played: 18 (14 starts)
What went right this season?
Ironically, the highlight of Barco’s season arguably didn’t happen with Atlanta, but with Argentina in the U-20 World Cup. While the Argentine team was snuffed out shortly after the group stage in disappointing fashion, Barco dazzled scouts with stunning goals and consistent performances. Frank de Boer reported that a scout he’d heard from gave Barco the highest possible rating after a game, and interest stemming from his performances is finally starting to manifest itself in foreign tabloids this winter.
While some of his most dominant performances and highlight-reel plays happened with the Albiceleste instead of the Five Stripes, Atlanta United will still reap the non-sporting rewards of those successes in the transfer market at some point. So while it’s not ideal that he missed time with the club this summer and had some of his best form while he was away, it’s not a total loss.
What does he need to improve?
While Barco’s value to the team is clear in the squad’s record, Barco still didn’t produce much in terms of goals and assists. The lack of goals isn’t completely shocking considering most of the team feeds striker Josef Martinez at every opportunity, but the lack of assists — only three in MLS — is noteworthy, especially considering the league credits secondary assists.
This year, we saw Barco look more adept at dealing with the physical nature of the league than in his debut season in Atlanta. He didn’t go down so easily and put himself in harm’s way repeatedly. But it was also a common occurrence to see the Argentine limping around inside the locker room after games, and his injury history so far in his young career is evidence that he has some physical maturing to go through before he’s ready to truly thrive while dealing with such punishment on a regular basis.
What role will he play in 2020?
If he’s still on the team and not sold this offseason, Barco will be as important as he’s ever been for Atlanta United — except without braces (on his teeth). He is the player maybe most suited to play the short, one-two interplay that De Boer hopes to implement more than any other player on the roster, and he has the added versatility to play a number of roles from central midfield to pseudo-striker.
Overall Player Grade