MARIETTA, Ga. — When Miguel Almiron left the field full of emotion following an apparent hamstring injury in Atlanta United’s last match against the New England Revolution, manager Tata Martino’s eyes turned toward Ezequiel Barco to replace his injured Paraguayan star.
With Almiron expected to miss this Sunday’s clash against the Chicago Fire (3 pm ET | ESPN — Full TV & streaming info) it’s likely that Tata Martino will once again rely on the 18-year old attacker to step into Almiron’s position in the starting lineup. Barco has not started a match since Atlanta’s 3-1 loss on the road to D.C. United on Sept. 2, and has only started twice since he was benched for three matches this summer for disciplinary reasons.
While the eyes of the wider soccer audience will look to see how effectively Barco replaces Almiron’s production during his absence, Atlanta United players see it differently. For them, no one can single-handedly replace a player like Almiron — a bonafide Landon Donovan MLS MVP contender.
“You can't just replace Miguel with one guy—it's too big of shoes to fill,” Michael Parkhurst told reporters this week. “The important thing is that [Barco] doesn't have that pressure that he has to do what Miguel does. He has to do what he does, and what he does is good enough for [Atlanta United] to have paid a lot of money to get him.”
That money is key, because for some players it’s a motivator, and for others it’s a burden. So far, Barco has failed to live up to the hype that comes with a league-record transfer fee. He has four goals and three assists in just over 1,500 minutes and has not scored since June 30.
ATLUTD center back Leandro Gonzalez Pirez is quick to point out that Barco is still very early in his development process.
“I think that's putting a lot pressure on a kid who's only 19 years old, who's adjusting to a new country and new league of football, and it's only his second year as a professional,” Gonzalez Pirez said when asked if Barco felt he has something to prove based on his transfer fee. “Barco is doing well. I see him every day and he trains with really good intensity, which is important. If it's his turn to play, I think he's been training hard for that role and all we can do as teammates is to try to support him and try to help him as much as possible to be successful.”