Despite Atlanta United’s front office playing coy more than a few times, people all over MLS are still waiting on word about Ezequiel Barco.
While we wait, it might be a good idea to take a look at what Barco might look like in Atlanta’s system and what he will bring to the table.
Ezequiel Barco showed more mettle at the age of 18 than many people thought possible, firing the game-winning penalty in the Copa Sudamericana and terrorizing Flamengo in the later stages of the game when the Brazilians had to push forward and hope for a winner.
Barco most likely slots in on the left for Atlanta United in the role that Yamil Asad played so brilliantly. I say ‘likely’ because while Barco has been penciled in on the left by fans, we still have a whole transfer window to go and only a fool would predict that silly season won’t find another gear. The Copa Sudamericana also featured him flipping to the right side at times, which you could see in Atlanta with Tito Villalba moving to the left, where he’s capable of cutting inside on his preferred right foot.
Barco is probably capable of playing in the middle of the field should Miguel Almiron be sold to Europe, but it’s a tall task for a young player and any team that signs him might want to work on things in practice to get him used to the defensive workload that Almiron showed in 2017. For the record, this approach might also apply to Andrew Carleton.
Barco almost certainly would become the best dribbler on the Atlanta United roster and that ability to break players down 1v1 is vital to Atlanta’s growth after teams found success bunkering against United in 2017. If you saw any of the Copa Sudamericana Final you saw how dangerous Barco can be in space. That skill doesn’t just include beating defenders but also drawing fouls, something Atlanta over 400 times in 2017.
Concerning the improvements, what’s really impressive here is that Atlanta is about 50% through upgrading positions that didn’t necessarily need it. Carlos Carmona and Yamil Asad were wonderful in their roles in 2017. Saying that Atlanta improved in these spots is not a slight against Carmona or Asad, but a way to express how lethal the roster is expected to be in 2018. As much as we talk about Barco’s ability on the ball, Yamil Asad suffered 93 fouls in 2017 which was good for second in the league. Carmona anchored a surprisingly brilliant midfield with consistent timing on the press, and great balance keeping the ball moving on offense while consistently thwarting counter attacks with smart fouls.
It’s too early to know for sure if Barco actually comes to Atlanta. The saga has certainly been a nice demonstration to new fans of the sport on how absurd and chaotic international transfers can be. If it doesn’t happen it is not the end of the world and fans would do well to keep an eye on Barco anyway for the pure fun he brings to the game. If it does happen, then fans probably will not have to wait for the Fourth of July game for fireworks.