Ezequiel Barco in form, but Atlanta United will have to weather his absence

KANSAS CITY, Kan. — 2019 has been the year of Ezequiel Barco for Atlanta United. The talented young midfielder has overcome a patchy 2018, to become an important player in Atlanta’s success.

Barco scored his fourth goal of the season in Sunday night’s 3-0 win over Sporting Kansas City, a low-driven laser into the bottom corner from outside the 18-yard box and set up the other two goals, and was named MLS Player of the Week for the second time this season.

Sunday was his last game with Atlanta at least until June, as he departed for Argentina on Monday morning to join the Argentine U-20 national team as they prepare for the upcoming U-20 World Cup in Poland.

“Yeah, it's a pity that he will leave because, okay, last year he struggled sometimes and now you really see what he's capable of,” Atlanta United manager Frank de Boer said of his performances after the match on Sunday night.

Barco was asked about his struggles last season, and what has helped him break out and show flashes of his potential in 2019.

“I've been put in a position where I can shine a little bit more, and it has been working out so far,” Barco said through a translator.

His play in 2019 has helped him earn that call up to Argentina’s U-20’s squad for their World Cup. While it’s hard for him to leave, he’s excited to get a chance to represent his country on a such a large international stage.

“I just want to take advantage of the opportunity,” said Barco. “In times past, I've had to pass it up. So I just want to do the best I can.”

De Boer is sad to see him go, and understandably so. Not only is Atlanta losing one of their most influential players in 2019, they’re losing a healthy body right as they embark on six more games in the month of May.

“It's bad for us,” De Boer said, “because you want one of your best players in form, you want to keep of course. Others have to stand up in that moment, I have confidence in all the other ones. It's a pity that he's not here but we have another Pity [Martinez] so he has to make the difference.”

The onus won’t be entirely on Pity Martinez to be the difference maker, as Tito Villalba will also get a chance to play a role. But there will be more pressure for Martinez to continue his positive performances when Barco is away, beginning with a midweek clash against Toronto FC (7 pm ET | MLS LIVE on ESPN+ in US; TSN4/5 in Canada), and Sunday night was certainly a start.

“You cannot expect that suddenly he will play his best,” De Boer said. “It's step-by-step and he's getting the rhythm of MLS and the confidence to get back and he show already some highlights that this is the Pity that we want. He's coming there so hopefully on Wednesday against Toronto it's another step forward.”


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