The pressure on Ezequiel Barco to perform is palpable in Atlanta.
The 21-year-old has only shown flashes in his time with Atlanta United since arriving in 2018 and some frustration boiled over on Wednesday night when he was subbed off in the 63rd minute against Inter Miami CF as he appeared to have an argument with a person on Atlanta's bench.
Watch: Barco's disappointment at being subbed off
Interim head coach Stephen Glass said on Friday that he wasn't aware of the incident at the time, but has discussed it with the Argentine multiple times since. He did not think Barco's frustration was aimed at him.
“We don’t want guys that want to come off the pitch anyway," Glass said in a video press conference on Friday. "I think it just shows his hunger to be in there for 90 minutes at a time. But we got a duty to protect him as well, almost from himself. He’s still young. He is a top player, he’s going to get even better, but he won’t do that if he’s injured.
“The biggest, most important thing is his long-term availability and [that] we look after him properly. That’s going to be the case of how we’ve looked after him. He understands that, he came in, spoke in the locker room to some of the staff afterwards that he knows that’s not really the way to go. But we understand it. We’re all in it together and we want to win."
Doyle: What Barco needs to do to be the man
What Atlanta United Ezequiel Barco needs to do to be the man | Top Tier
Wednesday was Barco's first start since recovering from an injury suffered in training. His last start came during the MLS is Back Tournament where the team was eliminated in the group stage. Last year he played under 1,000 minutes due to international duty and injuries.
Barco, who has 10 goals and eight assists across 48 career regular season matches, will be expected to step up in a big way beginning with Saturday's rivalry match against Orlando City SC as Atlanta look to avenge their first loss in the series during Week 8 (8 pm ET | FOX, FOX Deportes in US; MLS LIVE on DAZN in Canada). He'll be looking to fill the void left by the injured Josef Martinez and Pity Martinez with the attacking midfielder set for a move to Saudi Arabian club Al-Nassr FC.
“It’s just a different preparation when you’ve got one player less," said Glass when discussing life without Josef and Pity. "It’s something we’ve had to tackle as a club all year after losing Josef. So you lose one of your DPs and then we’re going to lose Pity as well. If I’m one of the guys, it gives me an opportunity to show that I should be a big personality within the group and a big player as well… Any team that loses two top people, it’s going to be an issue. But the challenge is for the group, the challenge is for the staff.”