Signing Barco good for Atlanta United and MLS, said Eales

Atlanta United acquired Argentinian midfielder Ezequiel Barco in what reportedly is the largest transfer in MLS history.

Barco, 18, left Independiente in Argentina and will join the Five Stripes in a deal that reportedly will cost $15 million. Atlanta United President Darren Eales wouldn’t confirm the fee, but said the numbers are “in the ballpark.” The previous transfer record was believed to be the $9 million that Atlanta United paid Lanus in Argentina to acquire Miguel Almiron.

“It’s exciting for Atlanta United fans, exciting for the club and exciting for the league,” Eales said.

Barco is considered one of the world’s top young talents and will join an Atlanta United team that last season scored 70 goals, second-most in MLS, with an attacking style put in place by manager Gerardo Martino that drew national interest.

Barco can play either as an attacking midfielder, on the right or on the left in the midfield. He’s more of a creator than a flyer on the wing. Because he is left-footed, Martino said it is likely that he will play on the left, where Yamil Asad was last season. Asad scored seven goals and had 13 assists while on loan from Velez Sarsfield in Argentina.

Atlanta United’s courtship of Barco lasted weeks and began to take on the qualities of a soap opera, perhaps reflecting the value of the young star.

“This is the worst-kept secret in the soccer world,” Atlanta United Technical Director Carlos Bocanegra said. “Credit to the kid who stuck by us. He really wanted to be part of the club and the league, a league of choice that he knows this is a steppingstone in his career.”

Barco will become the team’s fourth Designated Player signing, which means the team will use Allocation Money either to buy down the salary of the 23-year-old midfielder Hector Villalba or 24-year-old striker Josef Martinez, two of the team’s other Designated Players, to stay within MLS rules, which allow for a maximum of three DPs. Martinez’s salary was $1,041,310 and Villalba’s was $770,750 last season. The DP salary budget charge for a player 24 years or older in the 2017 season was $480,625. The salary budget charge for a player 23 years old or younger in the 2017 season was $200,000.

Atlanta United declined to say which player’s salary was bought down. Team’s rosters and budgets don’t have to be compliant with the league’s rules until March 1.

Eales said signing Barco is a win for the league because it shows that it is becoming a destination for talented players from South America.

Atlanta United signed several players last season, including Hector Villalba, Miguel Almiron and Leandro Gonzalez Pirez. Other MLS clubs have followed this offseason by acquiring younger talent from South America. Bocanegra said several players who were on their Discovery list ended up being signed by other MLS clubs.

“It’s easy to go to other players in South America, or around the world, or and say ‘Look, this league is a league that’s going places,’ ” Eales said. “’Come here, be a superstar for a while and still get that move to a top club.

“Ultimately we want to retain that talent as the league goes from strength to strength and becomes one of the top three or four in the world.”