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Atlanta United ecstatic after finally landing Ezequiel Barco

PHILADELPHIA — The MLS Draft was winding down on Friday when Atlanta United made a move that turned heads. In fact, it was the biggest move of the day.

No, it was not a selection in the second round nor was it a blockbuster trade. Rather, it was the official announcement of the acquisition of Ezequiel Barco.

The drawn out courtship of Barco came to a positive end for Atlanta United on Friday afternoon, as the club announced during the draft that it had signed the talented Argentine as a Young Designated Player. Barco, 18, joined via a transfer from Independiente in his native country, and he bolsters an already-stacked attacking unit that includes Miguel Almiron, Josef Martinez, and Hector Villalba.

“It was the hardest deal I’ve done and I’ve done some pretty tough ones in my time. Unbelievably difficult,” said Atlanta United president Darren Eales. “It was difficult because we thought we had reached agreements and goalposts kept moving. Look, I get it. If I’m on the other side, I want to fight for a player like this. I respect Independiente. They negotiated hard and tough, but in the end we got a win-win deal here.

“They got what they wanted, but more importantly Atlanta United got an absolute top talent coming to the league with 18 years of age with his whole future ahead of him.”

Eales added that the reported MLS record transfer fee of $15 million that Atlanta paid Independiente for Barco was not accurate, but that it was in the same ballpark.

Regardless of the exact figure, Barco’s arrival gives Atlanta United’s high-flying attack another dangerous weapon with which to terrorize and punish defenses. Barco is a versatile and crafty attacker with a good bit of experience for his age, and is fresh off of helping Independiente win the Copa Sudamericana.

“He’s an attacking midfielder that can play on the right and left as well as he can play behind the No. 9,” said Atlanta United head coach Gerardo ‘Tata’ Martino in Spanish. “He is very good on the dribble and very inventive with the ball at his feet and very vertical in his play. He’s a player that, for being just 18 years old, has a lot of courage to constantly ask for the ball and to go into the Maracana and play in a final the way he did.

“Just how I would say last year that we brought over one of the three best players or the best player from the Argentine Superliga with Miguel, I could probably say the same now.”

The praise for the teenager that the club had been tracking since last summer did not stop there.

“We’re talking about a top, top talent,” said Eales. “He is a player who has played over 70 times in the top league in Argentine and he’s only 18 years of old. If you look at the Copa Sudamericana that Independiente won, he had big balls to go and take that penalty. He’s away from home in one of the most iconic stadiums in the world, and he’s prepared to take that penalty and cooly slots it away.”

With all the hype will come expectations, however. Barco is essentially replacing fellow Argentine Yamil Asad in Atlanta United’s starting lineup, and Asad proved plenty productive during the team’s expansion season last year. The 23-year-old outside midfielder scored seven goals and assisted on 13 more in 32 appearances.

Some might view the move as a risk or gamble given Asad’s solid production in his debut MLS campaign, but Atlanta United is confident that Barco will deliver and make good on his.

“We wanted Yamil to stay with us because he had transformed into a fundamental player for us,” said Martino. “Regardless of Yamil staying with us or not, we still would have attempted to sign Ezequiel. It would have created an interesting competition within the team, but I anticipate Ezequiel to bring more experience and quality to what Atlanta United already has.”

The addition of Barco creates one issue for Atlanta, as it now has four DP players on the roster. MLS rules only allow three per team, and Almiron, Martinez, and Villalba are currently on those type of deals.

The club will have to use allocation money to get one of their salary cap hits under the DP threshold in order to keep that trio and Barco, but Atlanta United technical director and vice president Carlos Bocanegra did not seem overly concerned about being roster compliant by the March 1 deadline.

Instead, he, like the rest of Atlanta, was just basking the glow of finally getting their man.

“He feels this is the place for him and he was willing to give things up to come here,” said Bocanegra. “We’re proud of our club that we can facilitate something like that, but I think it speaks volumes for the league, where we’re going now, that a top player in South America chooses to come to MLS.”


  1. my two cents:
    * this is right. the first team always wants to bring in the top talent available from anywhere in the world
    * this idea of dumbing down the first team so more Americans with poor first touch can play is silly
    * i hear what johnnyrazor is saying but i think it will be different in the usa. i think here the old 20,000 columbus crew era sss’s will be the norm for future usl 2 (and 40-60k will be the new norm for mls) and i think the usl 2 will become profitable in its own right

    • I think a number of years away from those kind of numbers. Remember MLS has twice as many home dates as the NFL. Also you will get USL teams that are the only game in town to get decent numbers but pure reserve squads like ATL2 will always be funded through the parent club. Bayern Munich II draws less than 500 fans each week. Barcelona II gets around 1,000. Befica B 400-600 per match. Those last two are in the 2nd division just like ATL2 will be. Generally in the NBA G League attendance is lower when the G league team plays in its parent clubs metro area although it isn’t a huge gap to other clubs.

  2. It may not necessarily always be the same people, but it is funny to see the juxtaposition of the “US kids need to go the Europe to challenge themselves” and “MLS shouldn’t bring in so much talent, how will US kids get playing time?” narratives.

    Ultimately, the fix for the latter narrative is people actually supporting USL. If Atlanta people support ATL2, then they can better afford to provide a quality environment for Carleton to grow in at the USL level until he’s ready for the first team.

    • Yes USL needs to get better, but your call for support I don’t understand. Look at the attendance for Reserve teams around the world its 1,000 people or less virtually everywhere. It is not fan support that builds youth systems its training facilities and coaching and none of them are funded from their own success.

  3. Carleton will probably start with Atlanta 2 and hopefully be the focal point of their team and if he produces and gains experience will be able to make the jump later on in the season or the following season. Not many 17 or 18 yr olds are ready for top pro leagues(not saying MLS is a top league, just saying pro league). Lets not get spoiled with the few that done that lately.

  4. As far as Carleton, he turns 18 in June perhaps he has said he wants to go to Europe so Atlanta isn’t going to waste anymore developing him if he’s headed there in June.

    Atlanta seemed to rate Vazquez who is only 19 higher than Carleton at this point also giving him more time in the game day roster and actual minutes 13 app. for 177 minutes compared to 1 app. for 4 minutes. Brandon also had 3 goals across all competitions to 0. Despite the hype perhaps Carleton just isn’t ready to start for one of the league favorites.

    • What incentive is there really to play and develop young players like Carleton for a year or two. Live through the difficult growth period and struggles. if when you go to sell them the rest of the clubs get a cut of the profit? Its really backwards concept holding our players back and needs to change.

    • How about Carleton has not shown enough to earn a major roll yet, so Atlanta strengthened their roster for 2018 and positioned themselves to stay relevant in 2019 when they sell Miguel Almiron and insert Carleton into the line-up.

    • Could be that Atl didn’t want to give a 17-year-old kid whose played 4 minutes of MLS action a starting spot when they could get an 18-year-old with a season in a better league that spot.
      MLS needs to look at roster rules to ensure that American and Canadian players see more minutes but until that happens its easier to buy already developed players than risk developing your own.

  5. Is the responsibility of Atlanta United to put their team in the best position to win or strengthen the USMNT? It would be nice if both could happen but AtlUtd needs to look out for AtlUtd!

    • Exactly. I love the A but again, getting back to the massive failure to not make the World Cup, here we go burying young American talent in MLS just so MLS can be a bigger league.

      • If young American talent is not being pushed to complete against top level talent then it doesn’t matter anyway. This is an excellent signing for ATL.

    • Carleton will get his chances to make his name with his game. If he can not, he will be benched or moved … this is the appropriate outcome in competitive environments. This is MLS 4.0.

      I like this … I encourage this. I’m encouraged by this. Then our youngest players won’t have to go across the pond to find high level competition and development. It will be in their local team and they will have to fight to break through.

      • Really this isn’t about Carleton but its about the fact as many American teenagers are getting real minutes in the Bundesliga as MLS. (soon could be more with Sargent). I’ve often defended MLS as its growing but this is becoming a major issue, when Germany is making more use of young American talent then we are.

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