Atlanta United’s Ezequiel Barco said he’s feeling more comfortable with every game in MLS.
With two goals in the past three games, including one in Sunday’s 2-1 win at Orlando City, the 19-year-old Argentinian’s actions are proving his words.
“It's important for us to keep getting these points to stay up at the top of the table and just to keep getting better," Barco said.
With the victory, Atlanta United (8-2-1) leads MLS with 25 points. It also leads the league in goals scored (25) and is tied with New York Red Bulls for goal difference (plus-12). The Five Stripes will host the Red Bulls (6-3-0) on Sunday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
Atlanta United may need another strong game from Barco if they want to avoid a two-game losing streak at home. The first was last week’s 2-0 loss to Sporting KC.
Barco’s goal on Sunday against Orlando City was a combination of intelligence, speed and technical ability.
The play started with Miguel Almiron near midfield. He passed the ball to Barco, who then passed it to Greg Garza, who was streaking down the left wing.
Garza could have hit a cross through the box. Instead, he saw Barco continuing his run. Garza hit the short pass to Barco, who took a shot with the outside of his right foot. It’s a difficult technique, but the shot curled toward the goal, hit the crossbar and went in.
"It was a really fast play and when it came to me, I didn't have any other option than to just hit it with the outside of my foot and luckily it went in," he said.
Using the outside of the foot is just another element in Barco’s arsenal that he is starting to show each week.
Barco is very good at creating space before he receives a pass by positioning his foot as if when he receives the ball he’s going to take it and go one way, which can send that defender to that side, before Barco then turns his foot and takes the ball the opposite direction. It’s a small piece of skill that enables him to suddenly burst into dangerous positions. He used the technique to get into a hole in Orlando City’s defense before passing the ball to Garza on the goal-scoring play.
Barco is also developing a strong relationship with Almiron, Darlington Nagbe and Josef Martinez so that they can interchange positions depending upon the game’s situation. That has developed in the past six games, including his five starts.
Barco’s first goal, scored against Chicago, was another intelligent shot in which he popped up as an attacker and beat the goalkeeper to near post with another shot that hit the roof of the net.
"Yeah he's doing well,” manager Gerardo Martino said. “But we are excited to see him continue growing, to continue to being even more involved in the play participating even more in the game but I think it was a good week for him. He scored two goals in one week and one of them was prettier than the other one."