After quite the historic inaugural season, Atlanta United continue to rewrite the record books as they announced their latest attacking acquisition. On Jan.19, the club signed 18-year-old midfielder Ezequiel Barco – an exciting young talent from Argentine club Independiente – for an MLS record transfer fee. But who exactly is this teenager and what will he add to the already-blazing Atlanta United attack?
Born in Villa Gobernador Gálvez, Argentina, Barco has grown and developed through the Independiente youth system, eventually making his professional debut for the first team in 2016. He’s since impressed the club’s coaching staff and captured the hearts of “The Rojo” fanbase, making 57 career appearances primarily at left wing and tallying eight goals and four assists during that stretch. His most recent performance? Scoring the winning goal in the 2017 Copa Sudamericana, the second-most prestigious competition in South American soccer.
His rise to the pro level in 2016 caught the eye of Argentina’s Federation who called him in for his first youth international cap with the Argentina U-20’s in January of 2017. He now has eight total caps for the U-20 squad and even traveled a few times with Argentina’s senior team but has yet to appear for them in a competitive match.
Nifty, creative, technical, fearless, quick; these are attributes that have been used to describe the left-footed 18-year-old midfielder. While primarily playing on the left wing since joining the professional ranks, Barco can also play centrally and has a tendency to drift into the middle in order to find the ball, create and maintain possession. In addition to the Argentine’s ability to navigate tight spaces and set up his teammates, he’s not afraid to take advantage of scoring opportunities presented to him. However, creating is still his true love. He’s been quoted by local media as admitting, “I enjoy a pass much more than a goal.”
On the other side of the ball, Barco won’t necessarily add to physicality or provide an aerial asset at just 5’ 6”, but he is extremely disciplined, tenacious and possesses a high work rate, three qualities which head coach Tata Martino asks of all his players in his effective high-press system.
New Dynamic in Atlanta Attack
Barco joins an Atlanta United attack that captivated the league last season scoring 70 goals with a +30 goal differential, both in the top 2 in MLS. The teenager has been compared to the likes of Atlanta’s maestro Miguel Almirón and perhaps the 23-year-old will take Barco under his wing as he’s already clearly discovered how to adapt to the league from Argentina competition earning the 2017 MLS Newcomer of the Year award. However, they are different players and Barco will add a little bit of a different dynamic and his own spice to the team. Barco is a special player, one that can make something out of nothing, dazzle the crowd with a spectacular move and make the penetrating pass that no one else can see. His ability to set the defense off-balance will in-turn draw attention away from the rest of the lethal Atlanta front line that includes two of the league’s Best XI in 2017 (Almirón and Josef Martinez).
Though just 18 years of age, Barco is no hidden gem. He’s turning heads around the globe, recently named in The Guardian’s Top 60 Young Talents in World Soccer, ranked the #17 Best Teenager in World Soccer by FourFourTwo and garnering interest from some of Europe’s most elite clubs such as AC Milan and Tottenham Hotspur. Many have claimed him to be the best Independiente player produced by the club since Argentine international and Manchester City star Sergio Agüero – a statement that cannot go unnoticed. Making his professional debut at 17 and earning his way into a starting role just a year later for one of South America’s top clubs, Barco is not an unproven talent, he’s a rising star. And he’s coming to Atlanta.
Barco becomes Atlanta’s fifth acquisition of the 2017/18 MLS Offseason following goalkeeper Mitch Hildebrandt, defender Franco Escobar, defender José Hernández and midfielder Darlington Nagbe. Make sure to stay tuned to ATL UTD’s social media for more exciting news and potential player signings to come. Remember, Five Stripes don’t stop.