CARSON, Calif. — Guillermo Barros Schelotto is most familiar with two of Atlanta United's difference-makers, and the LA Galaxy head coach knows that if they are able to do as they like in Saturday's showdown at Mercedes-Benz Stadium (5 pm ET | FOX in US; MLS LIVE on DAZN in Canada), his team could find themselves on their heels.
Schelotto coached against fellow Argentines Pity Martinez and Ezequiel Barco when he was in charge at Boca Juniors, and he admires both, although he says that “they can get [to a] much better level, for sure.”
Martinez, 26, acquired from River Plate before the season, has been a regular for Atlanta United's attack under Frank de Boer, but has struggled to live up to the expectations heaped upon him as the reigning South American Player of the Year.
The 20-year-old Barco, who left Independiente last year to come to Major League Soccer, has missed most of the past three months while away for the FIFA U-20 World Cup and sidelined with a knee injury. He struggled in his first year in MLS, but before being sidelined had been emerging as a key player this season.
Barco made his first appearance since mid-June, when he was hurt in a U.S. Open Cup victory over Columbus Crew SC, off the bench in last weekend's 4-3 loss to LAFC. When he's at full strength again, watch out.
“They play easy, one-on-on, they are fast,” Schelotto told MLSsoccer.com. “They always [are] looking for the play to score and to build something with the ball on the field. I like it. ...
“I think if Barco, Pity, or even [Josef] Martinez, they play to the level they can, it will be a very hard game. We need to control them, and we've got good players, too, on the field.”
Schelotto faced Martinez eight times in Argentina — once as Lanus manager in 2015 — and was burnt by the attacking midfielder in three Boca-River Clasicos on home turf. Martinez fed the second goal to finish River Plate's 2-0 win in January 2017, scored and assisted in a 3-1 triumph in May 2017, and converted a penalty kick and set up the second goal in a 2-0 decision in March 2018.
Schelotto, a Boca Juniors legend who was MLS's MVP when he led the Crew to the MLS Cup/Supporters' Shield double in 2008, has gone up against Barco just once, in a 3-0 victory over Independiente in June 2017.
“I remember. Very dangerous near the box,” Schelotto said about the pair. “Maybe Barco can play more building the play, and Pity, he needs to get the ball in the last 20 meters and finish the play for himself or give the [final] pass, because he's really good. And Barco, maybe he build more, he manage the ball more than score.”
He believes they've not yet shown all they can do yet with Atlanta United.
“Maybe they need more time,” he said. “Even Pity, he arrived six months ago, so he needs the time. I remember when he moved to River [from Huracan in 2015], he spend the first year [and wasn't] really good, but he [adapted and found his game soon after]. Maybe Barco needs the time, too.
“I think they need more time to know more about the league. They have the talent and the attitude. They are very serious professionals and ambitious to get something here in USA. They not come just for the money or to play, they come here because they desire to win something.”
That adaptation process can be difficult, especially for players who have toiled in leagues — such as Argentina's top division — that are quite different from MLS. Not that Schelotto endured that when he came to the Crew in 2007.
“I get comfortable easy,” he said. “After first year, I get Best XI. But [at the] age they have, they are better than me when I came, because I came when I was 34.”