Ezequiel Barco, the most expensive transfer in MLS history, debuted in the 69th minute of Sunday’s game with Atlanta United leading 2-1.
No matter the price tag and skill level of the player, it was a difficult game for anyone to come into, much less someone who hadn’t played a competitive game in six months. It was a back-and-forth game against NYCFC featuring lots of individual skill, tough tackles and controversy.
But Barco, a 19-year-old who rights were purchased from Independiente in his native Argentina for a reported $15 million, still showed flashes of why he is considered one of the top young players in the world in what turned into a 2-2 draw at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
“It was a tough first game to come back to, but my teammates helped me to feel comfortable on the field,” Barco said.
Manager Gerardo Martino switched the formation from a 3-5-2 to something close to a 5-4-1 when Barco came on for Kevin Kratz. Barco played on the right, Jeff Larentowicz and Darlington Nagbe in the middle, and Miguel Almiron on the left.
After long periods of pressure from NYCFC, the formation eventually began to influence the game with Barco and Atlanta United penning the Cityzens into their final third for most of the game’s final 10 minutes.
Barco finished with one shot, one chance created, one foul won and one foul conceded.
“Tough game to come into,” Atlanta United captain Michael Parkhurst said. “Probably the most intense game of the year. To come in late when we are up one goal and trying to kill things off is a tough ask. I thought he combined well, got int the box and made things happen. Overall, a good debut and something to build off.”
It’s been a long wait for Barco, who suffered a quad injury the first week of the season during preparation for Houston, as well as Atlanta United’s fans. The #BoatShow (a reference to Barco’s last name meaning boat in Spanish) became a popular topic on Twitter among Atlanta United fans both before he signed after weeks of waiting and then waiting for his debut in a league game.
Anticipation was raised last week when Atlanta United manager Gerardo Martino said that he thought Barco would join the team for training on Tuesday for Sunday’s game against NYCFC. Barco did train with the team for the first time since the final week in February. After taking a previously scheduled day off on Wednesday, he trained with the team on Thursday, Friday and Saturday.
The crowd of more than 45,000 erupted on Sunday when Barco’s No. 8 flashed on the board as subbing in.
“It’s a beautiful experience to play here,” Barco said.
And, after playing 21 minutes on Sunday, he said his quad felt fine.
“I think he looked good physically; I thought he looked fine,” Martino said. “He was dynamic. He was missing a little bit in his precision.”
Barco said he needs to develop a rhythm with his teammates. He started to show that chemistry in the third preseason game of the year when he scored against Minnesota United. He missed the final preseason game and then suffered his injury on Feb. 27.
He said he spent the time working with Atlanta United’s trainers and with his family.
Now, he wants to get back to work to show everyone what he can do within Atlanta United’s offense. The next chance will come Saturday at the L.A. Galaxy.
“I thought he acquitted himself very well,” Atlanta United’s Chris McCann said. “He can only grow from that and benefit the team.
“The sooner we can get him back on the pitch and a run of games under his belt, showing us the stuff he can do, the better for us. He gives us that extra gear. When games are tight like that, he’s got that key to unlock defenses.”