Ezequiel Barco has been arguably Atlanta United’s best player this season.
He reinforced his importance in Sunday’s 3-0 win against Sporting KC with a goal from his six shots and a team-high five chances created. He also had an assist.
Now, Atlanta United must play its next seven games without him because he will leave the team Monday to join Argentina’s U-20 national team for the World Cup in Poland.
“I just want to take advantage of the opportunity,” Barco said. “In times past, I’ve had to pass it up. So I just want to do the best I can.”
Barco’s four goals in eight games are as many as he scored in 26 last season. He already has almost as many shots (20) as he had last season (21) and already has as many on goal (10).
“Yeah, it’s a pity that he will leave because, okay, last year he struggled sometimes and now you really see what he’s capable of,” Atlanta United manager Frank de Boer said. “He’s getting strong, you see in one against ones, he’s protecting the ball well, making good decisions. It’s bad for us because you want one of your best players in form, you want to keep of course.”
Atlanta United has several options to replace Barco.
The first would be Hector Villalba.
While Barco is at times more of a scalpel with his ability to go side to side, Villalba is more of a hammer, almost always choosing the path that’s straight down the field.
Villalba has yet to score in seven appearances this season, but has 20 goals in 62 appearances the previous two seasons.
“It’s unfortunate that he’s leaving right now,” Atlanta United’s Michael Parkhurst said. “He’s in the best form that we’ve seen since he got here. Tito is probably a direct replacement. He brings something different to the team.”
De Boer has other options.
Dion Pereira and Andrew Carleton are possibilities. Brek Shea could also move up the field and play on the left wing. Brad Guzan and Parkhurst joked that they could play on the wing, too.
And, lastly, is Pity Martinez. He, Josef Martinez and Barco have interchanged positions during the past few games. Pity Martinez could play on the left, where Barco has started, with any number of players moving into the role underneath Josef Martinez.
“Others have to stand up in that moment, I have confidence in all the other ones,” de Boer said. “It’s a pity that he’s not here but we have another Pity (Martinez) so he has to make the difference.”
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