What impact does the Barco signing have for Atlanta United? Where does Barco improve ATLUTD? Does this addition make Atlanta United favorites to win MLS cup?
Atlanta United cemented their trailblazing status among the MLS History books on Friday afternoon as the club announced the $15 million record signing of Argentine starlet, Ezequiel Barco.
— Atlanta United FC (@ATLUTD) January 19, 2018
The 18 year-old Barco is touted as one of soccer’s most promising attacking talents around the world, reportedly attracting interest from Spanish giants such as Atletico Madrid and Valencia. Barco, an attacking midfielder and winger, may be talented but where does the exciting youngster fit in amongst an Atlanta United squad already filled with attacking flair and explosiveness?
The rich appear to be getting richer with the addition of Ezequiel Barco to a squad that was the 2nd highest goal scoring team in MLS in 2017 with 70 goals scored. Players such as Miguel Almiron, Josef Martinez and Tito Villalba, captured the eye of MLS fans and the Five Stripe faithful alike as the trio set the league alight with pace, skill and explosiveness both on the counter attack and in possession. However, there was one key member of the attack that does not appear to be returning and Barco will be charged with the burden of replacing, Yamil Asad. Asad contributed 7 goals and 13 assists in his first season in MLS but his work rate must not be understated. Asad always brought infectious energy to track back in defense when called upon and Barco must be willing to take on that role in some capacity. Where Barco may appear lack in work rate, he makes up for in creative ingenuity, something that while still racking up 7 goals and 13 assists, Asad always left something to be desired at times going forward. Whether their playstyles are comparable or not, most fans around MLS and Atlanta United will look to compare Barco’s production in 2018 to Yamil Asad’s in 2017, to see whether the 18 year old was worth the record transfer fee. While most, including me, seem to think there is a great chance Barco exceeds Asad’s 2017 output, the conversation is still there to be had.
One of the areas Barco will certainly improve Atlanta United’s attack is in 1 on 1 situations, where in 2017 Atlanta United ranked near bottom of MLS in take-on’s completed. Fans can look forward to Barco improving that stat using his quickness and dribbling ability to take on defenders in situations where he has his marker isolated. This ability adds a different dynamic to an already electrifying attack, the more Barco adds to the mix, the more it will help the impressive pieces already in place for Tata Martino’s team. The greater the threat that Barco poses to opposing back lines, players such as Almiron, Josef, Nagbe and Tito Villalba will be given greater opportunities to succeed in attack. If Barco becomes an agent of chaos on the wing, defenders will know he cannot be left alone on that side of the field. That kind of gravity can only breed success, stretching opposing defenses even more, creating more space for Almiron and Nagbe to facilitate and Villalba and Martinez to make runs in behind the defense and in on goal. In addition, a player of Barco’s caliber will be given a license to roam by Tata, much like Asad was given, and help to facilitate in attack when needed.
While the Barco signing is very exciting going forward, the issues for Atlanta United in 2017 were rarely involved with the attack. Most of the issues for Atlanta were in defense, there would be a lapse in concentration after losing possession, maybe failing to mark a man on a set piece or flat out losing possession in inexcusable positions on the field that would lead to an easy goal on the counter for the opponent. If Atlanta wants to overthrow Toronto FC and win MLS Cup, those errors must be eliminated if winning MLS Cup is the goal for Atlanta United. Right now Toronto FC are the kings of the castle and are fresh off MLS history, winning the treble and earning claims of “Best Team in MLS History”, so it would be straight disrespectful to name Atlanta favorites to win MLS Cup. However, there is a very convincing case to be made regarding if Atlanta are favorites to challenge Toronto FC given how they matched up with Toronto in 2017, forcing 2-2 draws in both matches, both games presented Atlanta with opportunities to prevail as victors. With the addition of Ezequiel Barco to the already electrifying Atlanta United squad, there is no reason Atlanta cannot challenge for MLS Cup in 2018.