CARSON, Calif. – Ezequiel Barco got his first extended minutes for Atlanta United in Saturday night's 2-0 victory over the LA Galaxy, and the heralded teenager's performance offered a tantalizing look at what could be next.
Making his first start after going 20 minutes off the bench in his MLS debut in last weekend's home draw with New York City FC, the 19-year-old Argentine attacker worked marvelously with Miguel Almiron and Josef Martinez as the Five Stripes (5-1-1) applied heavy pressure on the Galaxy defense, continually creating opportunities in a triumph that was more comprehensive than the scoreline suggests.
He played a vital role on the first goal, was incisive as Atlanta found space in the attacking third, and might have opened his account early had he been sharper with his shot.
“He played very well,” said head coach Gerardo “Tata” Martino, who gave Barco a little more than 80 minutes before replacing him with Romario Williams. “He was very precise, very good with his movement, and he was combining well with Miguel and Josef.”
Barco, one of MLS's most anticipated new arrivals this season, missed nearly two months after suffering a preseason quadriceps injury and still needs some time to find his best form, which ought to give pause to the rest of the league. Flashing outstanding touch and movement Saturday, he displayed an advanced understanding of how best to play off the team's two biggest stars, and his teammates raved about him afterward.
“He, Miguel, Josef, they have a great understanding of each other,” said captain Michael Parkhurst, Atlanta's backline anchor. “They just seem to know where each other is going to be. They play 1-2s, it's very quick, and especially in the attacking third, they're tough to defend, and they're interchanging positions.”
Barco fired high when he got an open look at the top of the box in the sixth minute, but it was his beauty of a ball that Julian Gressel volleyed off the crossbar in the 22nd minute, leading to Martinez's rebound goal.
Barco said he “felt really good” and that his “teammates are doing a great job helping me get involved and adapting to the rhythm of the game, which is a little difficult.”
It's not been the simplest transition, and the injury, just before the regular season kicked off, didn't help.
“The beginning of the season was tough for him,” Parkhurst said. “You never want to be out, especially when you're with a new team, but it seems like he's coming out of his shell a little bit more. He's a quiet kid, but you can see he's starting to communicate a little bit more and laugh a little bit more and joke around a little bit and enjoy the soccer.
“A little less pressure, a little less stress, so that's nice to see, and I think that will help him on the field,” noted Parkhurst. “He seems be gaining fitness and sharpness, and I think this is just the beginning for him.”