Though the topic of Ezequiel Barco’s injury was serious, Atlanta United manager Gerardo Martino was in a playful mood on Thursday as he headed away questions about how he would replace the 18-year-old midfielder.
Martino said that Barco’s injury, which happened during Tuesday’s training session, was a shame and that they aren’t sure when it happened because he finished the session. Then, Martino was asked how would replace Barco for Saturday’s season-opening game at Houston.
Martino heard the question. He answered an unasked question.
“We have to be aware that Tito (Hector Villalba) was out for most of the preseason games,” he said. “The natural thing would be to put Tito in the lineup and see how the rest of the pieces fit together.”
Confused by his response, the questioner asked Martino if he was saying Villalba could play on the left, a position he played a few times last year.
“No,” Martino said, switching from Spanish to English. “Tito on the team. Not on the left. I won’t say who is on the left.”
Switching the question to focus specifically on if Miguel Almiron or Julian Gressel could play on the left, Martino pursed his lips and moved his upper body from left to right, which is body language that in the past usually indicates probability, even though he would only agree that either is possible.
Still having fun with the topic, asked about midfielder Darlington Nagbe and his best position, Martino ended his answer by saying he can also play left wing, smiling as he said it.
The only player who will be among the 19 players who will travel but Martino said he won’t consider for left wing is captain and centerback Michael Parkhurst.
Another player who will be among the 19 and who can play as a left midfielder is 17-year-old Andrew Carleton. Saying that people need to remember his age seems to indicate that Carleton isn’t in the running to start on Saturday. Martino twice said during the preseason, including once after last week’s draw with Charleston in which Carleton was a bright spot, that the Powder Springs native will spend time with the first team this season.
Atlanta United’s players agreed that Barco’s injury is a shame, but seemed confident that whomever Martino tasked with filling in would do fine.
“We have good players,” centerback Leandro Gonzalez Pirez said. “We have multi-faceted guys. They can play in different positions and this is good for the team.
Gonzalez Pirez and Franco Escobar, who like Barco are natives of Argentina, said they have spoken with him since the injury.
Escobar, who just recovered from an abductor injury suffered early in preseason, said he told Barco to remain patient because trying to rush back can make things complicated.
“It’s an important loss at the beginning of the season,” Escobar said. “He was one of the most dynamic players in the Argentine league last year and I think he will be in this league.”