MARIETTA, Ga. — It’s taken Ezequiel Barco some time, over a year in fact, to finally start to prove his quality and show that the reportedly-record-breaking $15 million transfer from Independiente was money well spent by Atlanta United.
And just as he begins to do so, securing his second MLS Player of the Week award of the season with his match-winning performance against Sporting Kansas City, the 20-year old Argentine departs the United States to join the Argentina national team for the FIFA U-20 World Cup in Poland.
The tournament, which kicks off May 23, is a treasure trove of talent, as clubs from all over the world will send scouts to evaluate which young players are the sport’s next global stars.
“For him, it's a great experience because a lot of eyes will be on those kinds of teams, especially Argentina, Brazil and those kinds of teams,” Atlanta United manager Frank de Boer told media Tuesday. “A lot of scouts will come to visit him, so hopefully he doesn't do that well!”
But after a brief laugh, De Boer explained.
“No, I hope he does well because that's the philosophy of our [club]. We buy young talented players for a lot of money and I hope they will develop and two or three years later we can sell them for a lot more money. That's how it goes and I think we can be proud of that.”
De Boer revealed that Atlanta had already arranged with AFA officials to allow Barco to remain with the Five Stripes two games longer than was originally intended, successfully making the argument that Barco, in his current form in the league, was better off staying sharp in MLS play rather than in national team camp with La Albiceleste.
Perhaps part of Barco’s resurgence this season has to do with his relationships in the team. Immediately after scoring his drive from outside the box against Sporting KC on Sunday, Barco ran straight to his teammate Josef Martinez and leaped into his arms.
“Last year I was always with Miguel [Almiron], but now [Barco] is one of the players I talk to the most,” Martinez told the media through a translator. “I'm there trying to help him, and I'm really happy for him because he's been in good form lately and he's been very involved in everything that we're doing on the field. I know we're going to miss him as he goes off to the World Cup, so we wish him well and hope that he comes back healthy.”
With Barco gone, all eyes will turn to ATLUTD’s most recent high-priced signing, Pity Martinez, to pick up the slack. While De Boer said “it’s no secret” that Tito Villalba will be the one to take Barco’s place in the starting lineup, Pity said multiple players will need to elevate their games to make up for the starlet’s absence.
“We're going to miss him for sure,” Pity Martinez said through a translator. “Ezequiel is a great player, but he has a great opportunity to go play a World Cup with his national team, so we wish him the best and hope that he can enjoy it. But other guys are going to have to step up.”