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OFFICIAL: Atlanta United signs Ezequiel Barco for MLS record fee

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It’s finally done.

Flamengo v Independiente - Copa CONMEBOL Sudamericana 2017 Final Photo by Buda Mendes/Getty Images

One of MLS’s most interesting and contentious transfer sagas is finally over. Atlanta United officially announced today that 18-year-old Independiente midfielder Ezequiel Barco will join the club via international transfer as a Young Designated Player.

The precise transfer fee is unknown, but has been widely reported to be upwards of an MLS record $15 million - not including incentives. Barco has appeared in 57 matches across all competitions since joining Independiente’s senior team for the 2016-17 season. In the second leg of the Copa Sudamericana final, he converted a decisive 40th-minute penalty away to Flamengo to help lift el Rojo to a 3-2 victory on aggregate and its second cup title. Barco is listed at attacking midfielder, but can easily be slotted as a potential replacement for Yamil Asad at left wing where he can join Josef Martinez, Miguel Almiron and Tito Villalba in what should be one of the most dynamic attacking corps in the league.

“Securing a player of Ezequiel’s caliber is another significant moment in Atlanta United history,” Atlanta United President Darren Eales said. “This transfer further demonstrates the commitment of our club to bring top level, dynamic young players to Atlanta and to MLS. We are excited to welcome Ezequiel to our club and our city.”

One thing that should rightfully raise eyebrows is the amount of money that Atlanta United are paying for Barco as it is set to join Toronto FC in the eight-figure transfer club. The club is betting big on the fact that it can further develop him on his path to stardom, while eventually commanding a high return when European clubs come calling within the next couple of years. Will it turn out to be money well spent or a swing and a miss by the front office? Time will tell.

“It speaks to the type of club that we’re becoming that Ezequiel chose to sign with our club over several European competitors,” Atlanta United Vice President and Technical Director Carlos Bocanegra said. “As one of the top young players in South America who has been a fixture in the Argentinian youth national team setup, we’re elated that he’s decided to continue his career in Atlanta.”

Atlanta have made some dynamic moves thus far this offseason, from acquiring U.S. international Darlington Nagbe in a trade with Portland, to signing Franco Escobar from Newell’s Old Boys to the States to strengthen its back line, to now purchasing Barco. Darren Eales and the front office are certainly positioning Atlanta as a club that can take the next step and make a legitimate challenge for MLS Cup in 2018.