But the Atlanta United midfielder, signed in January 2018 for a reported $15 million, then a record fee before Atlanta brought in Pity Martinez, is content with the Five Stripes. In a recent interview with FutbolMLS.com, he confidently stated: “I want to continue here in Atlanta.”
"I'm calm about it [the speculation]," Barco said. "I think this [Atlanta] is a great team where I can continue to grow as a player and then at the end of the year we'll see what happens. But today my focus is here and I'm not taking it away from Atlanta."
That focus has translated into what’s on track to be Barco’s best MLS season, with four goals and an assist through eight matches. The young Designated Player was recently named an MLS All-Star for the July 31 match against La Liga powerhouse Atletico Madrid. Last week, he was also the sole MLS player to earn a spot on French newspaper L'Equipe’s ranking of the top 50 soccer players globally under 20.
Ezequiel Barco on the dribble against Monterrey in the Concacaf Champions League | USA Today Sports Images
This breakout year, Barco said, can be attributed to increased confidence after a turbulent 2018. But it’s also more nuanced than that, with a link to Miguel Almiron’s sale to Premier League side Newcastle United.
“Last year of course I didn't play much," Barco said about his 2018 season. "That's because Miguel Almiron is a very important player who made a big difference in this league. In every game he was a difference-maker and he stood out a lot."
The improvements also coincide with a coaching change for Atlanta, the defending MLS Cup champions. Tata Martino is now leading the Mexican national team, with Dutch tactician Frank de Boer his replacement.
There were growing pains early into de Boer’s tenure, but they’re starting to smooth out. Atlanta is chasing the Philadelphia Union for pole position in the Eastern Conference standings, though has played two fewer games.
“There's a great vibe between the technical staff and the players," Barco said. "I think that whenever a new coach arrives, there are a lot of new things to learn, to continue to improve from a soccer standpoint. In each training session we're learning something new from the coaching staff."
But Barco isn’t narrowly focused on the personal, also commenting on the ups and downs Pity Martinez has experienced since arriving in MLS. The 2018 South American Footballer of the Year joined this past offseason from River Plate, though has just one goal and two assists through 14 games.
Similar to his own path, Barco believes Pity simply needs time to adjust to his new challenge.
“Pity has shown that he can play in this league and in any other league," Barco said of his new teammate. "We think he's a very important player for our team. The truth is that it takes time to adapt, but we're doing everything we can so that he feels comfortable on the field and really show what he did at River."
Ezequiel Barco came to Atlanta from Independiente of Argentin'a Primera Division | USA Today Sports Images
And once Pity starts firing on all cylinders, Barco holds a genuine belief that more titles will come. They’ll face USL Championship side Saint Louis FC July 10 in the U.S. Open Cup quarterfinals, then will look to repeat as MLS Cup winners.
But Barco isn’t looking too far ahead, focusing on the day to day instead.
“I train and I'm not thinking about getting to the end of the year with this many goals or this many assists,” the Argentine said. “You've got to live day to day and face each game like it's your last. You have to show it and win, which is what's important.