ATLANTA – Throughout the offseason, Atlanta United fans followed their team’s pursuit of 19-year-old Argentine phenom Ezequiel Barco, using the #BarcoWatch hashtag on social media to track every up and down of the negotiations between the Five Stripes and Argentinean club Independiente.
They have been anxiously awaiting the chance to see their high-priced acquisition in action, and the months of breathless anticipation finally came to an end on Sunday. Barco finally made his injury-delayed MLS debut, coming on for Kevin Kratz in the 70th minute of the team’s 2-2 home draw with New York City FC.
“I came in, and the response from the crowd was great,” Barco said through a translator after the match. “It's a beautiful experience to play here. They never stop chanting the whole game and it just gives you more excitement to come and play in front of them.”
“Yeah, welcome to MLS,” said midfielder Julian Gressel. “It's a long time coming for him, and he's been excited to come out, and that was a first taste for him against a very, very good team. I think he knows what it’s like now. He got his first few minutes in and I’m sure he’ll continue to get better and get used to it.”
Said Barco: “It was a tough first game to come back to, but my teammates helped me feel comfortable on the field. Luckily, I was able to get some playing time with them today.”
Atlanta manager Tata Martino changed the team’s formation with the substitution, moving Barco to the right and Miguel Almiron to the left to play alongside Josef Martinez in a three-man front line. Through a translator, Martino admitted Barco was “missing a little bit in his precision,” but said he looked dynamic and good physically.
The new shape was meant to allow Barco and Almiron the freedom to roam and use their creativity on the ball to harry opposing defenses and create chances. Unfortunately for Atlanta, it also seemed to open them up a bit defensively, as NYCFC’s Alexander Ring scored a long-distance blast shortly after Barco took the field.
“It’s a tough ask for anybody to debut in this game just because it was so intense, and it was a lot of running defensively,” said Atlanta captain Michael Parkhurst. “They were on top of us a little bit at that point.
“I thought he came in and did well. You can see his class on the ball. He has got a very good first touch. Everything is very smooth. He likes to combine. I think he helped us push for the winner there at the end.”
Atlanta fullback Greg Garza, who has overcome multiple injury setbacks during his career, said it was tough on Barco to have to sit and watch his teammates at the start of his MLS career. But Garza is optimistic his new teammate will adjust quickly.
“I think that is good for him to get his confidence up a bit,” said Garza. “I know what that feels like watching the game from afar. I am glad he did get some minutes today and hopefully, we can get him in more minutes as well and get him that starting job here in a bit.”