- Doug Roberson The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Though the team has repeatedly declined to comment, reports from South America have Atlanta United adding two Argentinians: defender Franco Escobar and midfielder Ezequiel Barco.
The possible acquisitions show manager Gerardo Martino’s influence and adds more talent to a roster that is already loaded with South Americans. They also bring into question where each would be used and what formation the team would utilize.
Escobar, 22, would come to Atlanta United from Newell’s Old Boys, the team Martino used to play for and manage. Escobar can play as a central defender or right fullback. A report has the transfer fee of around $1 million.
Barco, 18, would come to Atlanta United from Independiente. He is considered one of the more promising young talents in the world. A report has the transfer fee at around $12 million, which would smash the MLS record for a transfer, breaking the fee of more than $9 million that Atlanta United paid to acquire Paraguayan Miguel Almiron from Lanus in Argentina.
If the transfer fee for Barco is remotely close to accurate, he would become a Designated Player because his transfer fee and salary would exceed $480,625.
MLS teams are allowed a maximum of three Designated Players. Atlanta United has three in Almiron, Argentina’s Hector Villalba and Venezuela’s Josef Martinez. MLS has created financial mechanism known as Targeted Allocation Money that allows teams to “buy down” a player’s salary, which eliminates the “Designated Player” tag. Atlanta United could buy down either Villalba ($770,750) or Martinez ($1 million), whose salaries are much less than Almiron’s ($2.3 million).
The same mechanism may need to be used to acquire Escobar.
Escobar seems likely to slide into right fullback, where Anton Walkes, on loan from Tottenham Hotspur, finished the season. The team declined to pick up the options on Tyrone Mears and Mark Bloom, the team’s other two right-sided fullbacks. The team hasn’t said if Walkes will return for next season.
It seems unlikely Escobar would play centerback because Leandro Gonzalez Pirez, another Argentinian, and Michael Parkhurst, anchored a defense that allowed the fourth-fewest goals in MLS last season. Plus, Miles Robinson, the No. 2 pick in the 2017 SuperDraft, is waiting.
Barco seems likely to move into the middle of the midfield, which would push Almiron to left. If that were to happen, it also seems likely that Yamil Asad, an Argentinian on loan from Velez Sarsfield, won’t return for next season. Asad proved invaluable in Martino’s pressing system. He also scored seven goals and added 13 assists.
If Asad is bought or his loan extended, how will Martino use all of these players?
It could work if Martino decides to change the formation from the 4-3-3, or 4-2-3-1 he used the majority of last season.
Options that could see all the players used would be a 3-5-2, which doesn’t seem likely because the team just signed to a permanent deal left fullback Greg Garza, who was on loan from Tijuana. That could work if Garza is used more as a wingback to take advantage of his attacking skills.
Or, Martino could go to a 4-1-4-1, or 4-1-3-2, with Martinez paired with either Almiron or Villalba as forwards, a trio of midfielders underneath, and Chile’s Carlos Carmona as the lone holding midfielder.