Atlanta United technical director Carlos Bocanegra was quick to echo the sentiment expressed by interim head coach Stephen Glass in regards to the absence of Ezequiel Barco: There's nothing nefarious afoot.
Barco has missed Atlanta's last five games with little information shared about the specific injury, other than the club listing him as day-to-day. With the transfer window for major European leagues fast approaching, speculation began that perhaps there was serious interest from European clubs in the highly-rated Argentine youth international. Bocanegra, like Glass, quickly dispelled those rumors.
“It’s been unfortunate for him, he’s had a few setbacks with his injury," Bocanegra told reporters Thursday on a virtual press conference. "... Is there interest from him overseas? Yes, he’s a top player. There’s always interest in him. But this isn’t the case (why he’s been out.) He’s desperate to get back on the field, he’s doing everything he can every day. Sometimes three sessions a day with our trainers.”
The 21-year-old has two goals and three assists over 10 appearances (eight starts) this season. Combined with Pity Martinez's transfer and Josef Martinez's season-ending injury, Atlanta have been playing without any Designated Players over the last few weeks as the club hope to stay above the playoff line.
“It’s not a long-term thing, that’s why we have him listed as day-to-day," Bocanegra said. "I know that can be frustrating sometimes, but there’s no funny business going on with that. The kid’s head is here in Atlanta, he’s doing everything he can to get back on the field.”
As for the minimal information regarding what, exactly, is keeping Barco out, Bocanegra seemed to suggest that was purposeful.
“Teams target us," Bocanegra said. "We’re the most fouled team in the league, he was the most fouled player in the league. We’re not going to give any information to other teams to go and target these guys.”
Per Opta, Atlanta as a team are only second in fouls suffered (238) to Inter Miami (242) while Barco is third among players (40), behind Chicago Fire FC's Robert Beric (43) and Inter Miami's Rodolfo Pizarro (46) despite playing a handful fewer games than the players he trails. Barco is easily the league leader in fouls suffered per 90 minutes (min. 500 minutes) at 5.06 fouls suffered per 90. FC Dallas' Andres Ricaurte is second at 3.73 fouls suffered per 90.