Atlanta United midfielder Ezequiel Barco will likely miss the first 4-6 weeks of the MLS season after suffering a right quad injury during Tuesday’s training session at the team’s facility in Marietta.
Barco, 18, was acquired by Atlanta United from Independiente for a reported $15 million in the largest transfer in MLS history.
The native of Argentina is considered one of the top young talents in the world.
Atlanta United will begin its second season on Saturday at Houston. With the timetable said by the team, Barco could return as early as the April 7 game against LAFC at Mercedes-Benz Stadium and miss five games.
Barco looked sharp in training on Tuesday. Michael Parkhurst said he thought it was the best that Barco has looked so far with the team.
After protracted negotiations, Barco joined Atlanta United at the end of January when it was training in Florida.
He started slowly in the first two preseason games -- a 3-1 win at Nashville and 3-1 loss to Columbus -- before looking very dangerous and scoring the tying goal in a 1-1 result against Minnesota United.
Barco didn’t participate in the final preseason game on Feb. 24 because he had flown back to Argentina to get married.
“He’s slick,” Atlanta United’s Jeff Larentowicz said earlier this month. “Speed of thought is there. You go to close him down and the ball’s already gone. He’s impressive with the ball, how quickly he does things.”
Manager Gerardo Martino has options on how to best replace Barco in the starting 11.
The easiest would be to start Julian Gressel, the reigning rookie of the year. Like Barco, Gressel is right-footed. He started the first three preseason games as the right midfielder in place of Hector Villalba, who was recovering from an abductor injury. Villalba played in the final preseason game.
Martino could also consider starting Andrew Carleton, who looked sharp in 90 minutes in the final preseason game. The 17-year-old was the first Homegrown signing in team history. He made one league appearance last season.
Martino could also consider starting Brandon Vazquez, a 19-year-old who looked dangerous in 13 appearances last season in which he scored one goal and added an assist.
There are also more complicated moves that could be made.
Martino could move Miguel Almiron from the center to the left, move Darlington Nagbe from defensive midfielder to attacking midfielder, and pair Chris McCann or Jeff Larentowicz with a new defensive midfielder partner. Or, if Michael Parkhurst is healthy enough to start, slot him back into the starting lineup at centerback and move Larentowicz from centerback to defensive midfielder and play him alongside McCann.