After two rather lackluster preseason games, not only did Atlanta United’s offense pummel Minnesota United’s goal, but $15-million-man Ezequiel Barco scored his first goal and was a key part in several exciting moments during Wednesday’s preseason game.
“I’m happy I was able to help the team tonight,” Barco said. “That was the most important. I’m happy with the goal, happy to be gaining confidence out here and that we are able to get the tie. It’s a little bit bitter, the result, but I’m happy with the goal.”
Barco’s goal offset a penalty kick by Minnesota United, which was its only shot on goal.
Here are three observations about the game.
1. Barco’s first goal: Barco received a pass from Mikey Ambrose down the left sideline. He began a diagonal run toward the goal. He cut in once. A second defender arrived, forcing Barco to cut in again. From 20 yards, he curled a shot into the opposite corner of Matt Lampson’s goal in the 85th minute.
In his first interview after joining Atlanta United, Barco discussed how he liked to cut inside from the left so that he can get the ball on his favored right foot.
“It was one of the plays I do most often,” he said.
Barco could have had at least one more goal, possibly two more. He already had one shot cleared off the line, as well as a penalty claim denied. He connected well with Miguel Almiron, Josef Martinez and Greg Garza down the left several times in the first half.
“For me it was more of a penalty than the one they gave to Minnesota,” Atlanta United manager Gerardo Martino said on a no-call on Barco. “For me, it was important for him to gain that ability and I think he’s getting more used to playing with the team.”
2. What Barco’s first goal means: Barco said the goal gives him more confidence. Even before he scored in the 85th minute, he looked a different player on Wednesday than in the first two preseason games.
His passes were crisper. His runs more threatening. It seems that he is starting to understand the movements and wants of the players around him.
Barco’s teammates didn’t seem worried that he hadn’t yet scored or posted an assist.
“I don’t know if it’s a relief; it’s expected,” centerback and captain Jeff Larentowicz said. “It’s only our third game. He’s been involved every game. Shows a bit of class that he cuts in and puts it in the side panel. It’s a good goal.”
3. It was a good thing that Barco scored: Before Barco’s strike, the night wasn’t going as well if scoring goals is the goal.
Here’s a synopsis of the frustration:
After Martinez’s header beat Lampson only to be cleared off the line by a Minnesota United defender in the second half, the forward ripped his jersey in half and continued to play.
A few seconds later, his shirt dangling around his neck literally by threads and his arms still through the sleeves, Martinez was again denied, this time by a diving Lampson. Martinez took off what was left of the jersey and threw it into the crowd. He was quickly given another and threw it into the crowd as he was being subbed off.
It was that kind of night.
When his defenders weren’t stepping up, Lampson was. He stopped four shots in the first half and pushed another Almiron shot over the bar in the second half.
Romario Williams, who came on for Martinez, missed two chances.
Remember Atlanta United’s 6-1 in at Minnesota in the last season’s second game? Yeah, Wednesday could have easily finished similarly.