All-Star Barco: Learning, taking his lumps, becoming part of a Big Three

MARIETTA, Ga. — After missing the first five games of his inaugural season with Atlanta United, 19-year-old Ezequiel Barco seems to have integrated quite well with his Five Stripes teammates.

Though he hasn’t scored a goal since Atlanta’s 2-1 win against Orlando City SC in May, Barco is among the league leaders in chances created, averaging 2.61 per 90 minutes according to numbers provided by Opta. He’s clearly confident on the ball, and has developed a formidable three-headed attack alongside teammates Miguel Almiron and Josef Martinez.

Atlanta manager Gerardo “Tata” Martino gives Barco positive marks on his performance as the team enters the middle of the MLS season.

“I think the last game [against the Portland Timbers], for example, [Barco] participated a lot during that game,” Martino said through a translator at a press conference following Friday’s training session. “He was involved in just about every attack that we had in that game.”

He added: “We’re satisfied with his performance so far, understanding that he’s playing in a new stadium and a field with a different surface than he’s used to.”

Barco was quick to credit both his manager and teammates with making his transition into a new team, new league, and new country a smooth one.

“I think it’s due to the preparation we do every day in training,” said Barco. He believes he is “gaining more confidence every day” thanks to the support his teammates have given him “on and off the field.” 

Josef Martinez thinks he, Almiron, and Barco still have room to grow as an attacking trio.

“Each player just has to keep working,” said Martinez. “Each one of us can add a bit more to the team, we just have to keep working together trying to get our understanding improving every game. Because I know all three of us can add more.”

Something that has hampered Barco’s play a bit is the large number of times he’s been fouled, which Martino described as “similar to what happened to Miguel last year.” Barco has been fouled 3.92 times per 90 minutes, the highest rate in the league.

“That’s kind of the welcome these players get to the league,” Martino said.

“I think we all know the league is really tough, it’s really physical,” said Barco. “So, all I can do is keep trying, keep preparing, and trying to get better.”