The last time Alan Franco and Ezequiel Barco lined up together for an official match, it ended in celebrations. In fact, it was Barco's last act as an Independiente player.
In his final game for the club before a then-record-breaking transfer to Atlanta United, Barco and Franco were in the starting lineup against Sao Paulo in leg two of the Copa Sudamericana final. Barco scored a first half penalty that was ultimately the series-deciding goal, with Independiente lifting the trophy. With that as his finale, Barco headed to the United States.
"I’ve had a good relationship with Ezequiel for a long time, he spoke very highly of the club," Franco said. "I’m really happy to come to a big club like Atlanta.”
Franco has been training with Atlanta for a few days and said he's physically fit and ready to go for the club's second leg Concacaf Champions League game against Alajuelense. He says it's up to head coach Gabriel Heinze.
The center back watched his new teammates in leg one -- admitting he missed a bit of the beginning as he was trying to find which channel it was on -- and was impressed with their work-rate, fight and desire even after going down a man to a first half red card by Brad Guzan. Atlanta won 1-0 and could be boosted by Franco's debut when they return home for Leg 2 on April 13.
Franco had spent his entire senior career with Independiente, making 125 appearances for the club and even getting his debut with the Argentine national team in 2018. His acquisition is seen as a big coup for the club, who added him to the roster as their third Designated Player, alongside Barco and star forward Josef Martinez.
“There’s always a lot to improve on, I’m still a young player," Franco said. "I realize I have a lot of things to work on and Gabriel is a great coach, he’ll be able to teach me a lot. As for my strengths, I think I’m a fast player, very good in the air and I try to build from the back, play good soccer.”
Franco added he's comfortable playing in a back four or back three and has modeled his game after Argentines like Nicolas Otamendi and Marcos Rojo, but admitted his respect for Real Madrid legend Sergio Ramos as well.
He's the latest addition in a busy offseason for Atlanta, beginning with the hiring of Heinze. Fellow Argentines Santiago Sosa, Franco Ibarra and Lisandro Lopez were also signed this winter, making the transition even easier for Franco. He's ready to get started.
“Since my first day here, the group has treated me really well," Franco said. "I feel part of the group."