MARIETTA, Ga. — Ezequiel Barco was active in Atlanta United F.C.’s training session Friday morning. He was one of the first handful of players to take the field and began practicing corner kicks.
But Barco will not play Saturday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium when the Five Stripes take on Toronto F.C.
Atlanta manager Gerardo “Tata” Martino said the 19-year-old Argentine midfielder will not be eligible for the 18-man gameday roster. Barco missed the last two league matches as punishment for what Martino called an “act of indiscipline” after the club’s 3-1 win over D.C. United July 21.
“Next week he will train normally, just like he has been, and we’re going to take it as we always have,” Martino said through a translator at the club’s training ground. “I understand it’s been a difficult period for him, but as I said before, he misbehaved and misbehavior has consequences and he still has to deal with those consequences. From now on, it’s going to be my decision on looking at how’s he doing every week to decide.”
Martino added that Barco’s initial two-game benching was a decision made by Atlanta United’s upper management and coaching staff. Barco sitting for Saturday’s match was solely up to Martino.
“He’s fulfilling our expectations. He’s training very well,” Martino said. “The original plan was: We made a decision, both the club and the coaching staff. And now from this point on, that ended. And what’s coming now is only my decision.”
Barco came to Atlanta during the offseason from Atlético Independiente, an Argentine club, on a reported record-high MLS transfer fee of $15 million. He was signed as a Young Designated Player and earns the second-highest salary on the team, making about $1.43 this season, according to numbers provided by the MLS Players Association.
After battling a quad injury earlier this season, which forced him to miss the first five games, Barco featured in 16 straight games, making 15 starts. He’s scored four goals, has one assist and has drawn 49 fouls this year — eighth most in the league.
Barco was voted into the 2018 MLS All-Star Game and played 29 minutes on Wednesday, tallying a shot-on-goal. After the game, he admitted that it’s been hard for him to sit out the past two games for Atlanta United.
“After two games, it was a little difficult to jump back into the field, but I worked hard and it was good to be back and playing with my teammates again,” Barco said Wednesday night. “I have to keep working. Two games is a tough time to come back from, but I just have to keep working and I’ll get to my level again.”
The topic of Barco’s benching still seemed like a bit of a touchy subject among players. When asked Friday at training about how Barco played in the All-Star Game, Leandro González-Pírez replied, “Why are you asking?”
After the reporter explained he was curious of teammates’ impressions because Barco faced an experienced and skilled Serie A side in Juventus after not playing regularly, González-Pírez answered.
“I thought he looked good, just like all of the other players. He wasn’t playing for two games, but he still trained every day. So, physically, he’s fine,” González-Pírez said. “I thought he looked good out there with the rest of the guys.”
Chris McCann also was asked about Barco.
“He’s got talent and he showed glimpses the other night of why he’s such a good player and why he’ll be an important player for us come the end of the season when he’s obviously back involved,” the veteran Irish defender said. “He’s a good lad. He’s a good player. He just needs to get his head down and work hard and try to get himself back in the team as quick as possible.”