Update 2/8: It’s now official. Franco Escobar’s signing was officially announced by Newell’s Old Boys. We already miss you, Franco.
Atlanta United supporters have been here quite a lot recently. Having to say goodbye to a beloved player is never easy but this time it feels very different. Franco Escobar will never be known as the most talented soccer player to lace up their cleats for the Five Stripes. While his skills will go on being heavily debated by fans and critics, the legacy he leaves behind in Atlanta — through his accomplishments and passion — is unquestionable.
It’s easy for the average person to get lost in the faults of a player like Franco. He can undoubtedly be a frustrating player to watch on a weekly basis. On any given matchday the Argentine fireball had the chance of putting up a complete dud of a performance to make you question why he’s in the starting lineup or a showing worthy of MLS Best XI consideration. It was that unpredictability — especially during the three regular seasons he was at the club — that made him quite the character to follow. However, when Franco was good, he had the ability to lift the team’s overall performance to great heights. It was a popular sentiment around the Atlanta United community and players that the team’s success usually reflected how well he played on that particular day.
Matches one through 34 may have been a crapshoot as far as Franco’s impact on the squad goes. It was when the most important matches arrived that he went into his phone booth and emerged as an Atlanta hero that will never be forgotten. The birth of Playoff Franco will go down in the club’s lore that fans in the current day will be telling their grandchildren about decades from now.
Everyone played their part in helping the club win MLS Cup in 2018. From the dynamic duo of Josef and Miggy to the incredible leadership of Parky and Jeff. But it was Franco Escobar who stepped up and rose to the occasion on multiple occasions to ensure the Five Stripes’ first-ever trophy. First it was his brilliant strike against the Red Bulls in the Eastern conference final first leg win. Then it was the goal that sealed the cup against Portland, a smart far post run that was rewarded with a moment of pure ecstasy.
He wouldn’t stop there as he did all he could to help the club repeat as champions the following year with another goal in the playoffs, a game-winner against the New England Revolution. While the dream of back-to-back MLS Cups died tragically, he still played a huge role in bringing two more trophies to the ATL that season, bringing his tally to three in three seasons.
While it was his incredible knack for showing up in the most important moments that will earn him his place in Atlanta United’s history books forever, it was the character and drive he displayed in the club’s shambolic 2020 season that cemented his legendary status in my eyes. With little hope of winning many games due to a complete capitulation of losing key players and a manager, Franco turned a major corner during the middle of the season. He graduated from key role player to team leader and took it upon himself to become a more influential personality. From then on his performances on the field became consistently solid and his attitude improved dramatically. The transformation may not have resulted in the fairytale turnaround from a results standpoint. He clearly showed that he was dedicated to the club and wants the best for it. Every day he went out and fought as hard as possible even when the situation looked as bleak as it did. For that, he earned my respect to go along with the admiration for his past heroics.
It’s never an easy thing for a player of Franco’s stature to leave the club. Unfortunately, business usually trumps emotional investment in MLS. No matter how difficult saying goodbye is right now, we’ll always have the unforgettable memories to look back on fondly. Franco Escobar’s exploits in the club’s most iconic moments will live on forever. Thank you for everything and good luck in the rest of your journey, wherever it takes you.