Apr 15, 2018; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta United defender Michael Parkhurst (3), defender Greg Garza (4), midfielder Ezequiel Barco (8), and defender Jeff Larentowicz (18) react after their game against New York City at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports
Ezequiel Barco made his long-awaited Major League Soccer debut Sunday, stepping onto the pitch in the 69th minute for Kevin Kratz.
It was the first time the $15 million man suited up for Atlanta United F.C. in a regular-season match since the Five Stripes acquired him from Argentine club Independiente for a reported record-setting transfer fee. A quad injury kept him out of the first five games of the season.
The 19-year-old made a few runs, added some crisp passes to Atlanta’s attack and showed right away he had chemistry with some of his teammates, especially Miguel Almirón.
“I feel good playing with Ezequiel,” Almirón said through a translator. “When he starts to play more and gets more confident, he’s going to be even better.”
Barco teamed up with Almirón and Josef Martínez for the final minutes of Atlanta’s 2-2 draw against NYCFC. He attempted one shot, one corner, suffered a foul and committed one in front of 45,001 fans. He also had 10 successful passes or crosses out of 16 attempts.
The promising young player was happy to get his debut, but unhappy with the result of the game.
Still, Barco has much more to show Atlanta United fans and the rest of MLS. We still haven’t seen him start a game or play with another dynamic attacker the Five Stripes have in Héctor “Tito” Villalba.
“I think we all know the kinds of forwards that Josef, Miguel and Tito are, and I hope I am able to contribute,” Barco said through a translator. “… It was a tough first game to come back to but my teammates helped me feel comfortable on the field. Luckily, I was able to get some playing time with them today.”
Oh, and that quad injury? Barco said it felt fine after 21 minutes of play.
But fans saw a glimpse of how the attackers – Almirón, Barco and Martínez – can show off their versatility and be interchangeable. When Barco first entered, the Five Stripes went to four midfielders and had him on the right wing. Then, a few minutes into that experiment, they paired Barco and Martínez at the top as strikers.
“We don’t have any problems with that,” Almirón said on switching positions. “We’re comfortable on the field. Coach gives us the freedom to do that and has confidence in us and then we work it out on the field.”
Atlanta coach Gerardo “Tata” Martino wouldn’t commit to Barco being a starter on Saturday in Los Angeles where the Five Stripes take on the Galaxy, but if Villalba misses another game and Martinez continues to be hampered by a hand injury, Barco could play a key role in creating chances against one of the Western Conference’s top sides.
Martino did say he thought Barco looked “good” and “dynamic,” but also added that he was missing a little bit in his precision.
Barco’s teammates were impressed with his debut too. Here’s what they had to say:
Michael Parkhurst: “It’s a tough ask for anybody to debut in this game just because it was so intense, and it was a lot of running defensively. They were on top of us a little bit at that point. I thought he came in and did well. You can see his class on the ball. He has got a very good first touch. Everything is very smooth. He likes to combine. I think he helped us push for the winner there at the end. It just wasn’t happening for us tonight.”
Darlington Nagbe: “I thought he did well. He’s dangerous. I think when he steps on the field he’s a guy who draws attention and he’s going to go to the end line and try to make a play and we need that from him.”
Greg Garza: “(Barco) coming on playing the last 20 minutes, I think that is good for him to get his confidence up a bit. I think it is tough for him coming in getting that initial injury that he had and not being able to play. I know what that feels like watching the game from afar. I am glad he did get some minutes today and hopefully, we can get him in more minutes as well and get him that starting job here in a bit.”
Julian Gressel: “Yeah, welcome to the MLS. It’s a long time coming for him, and he’s been excited to come out, and that was a first taste for him against a very, very good team. I think he knows what it’s like now. He got his first few minutes in and I’m sure he’ll continue to get better and get used to it. He’s just a good player. Quality, you know? I think another guy that’s really, really hard to defend when we’re attacking and a guy that can unlock a defense pretty quickly with his clean touches and his ideas that he has and you know, that’s just another weapon we have.”