Atlanta United standouts receiving interest

Atlanta United midfielder Ezequiel Barco #8 dribbles during the round one playoff match against New York City FC at Yankee Stadium in Bronx, New York on Sunday November 21, 2021. (Photo by Dakota Williams/Atlanta United)
caption arrowCaption
Atlanta United midfielder Ezequiel Barco #8 dribbles during the round one playoff match against New York City FC at Yankee Stadium in Bronx, New York on Sunday November 21, 2021. (Photo by Dakota Williams/Atlanta United)

Credit: Dakota Williams/Atlanta United

Atlanta United hasn’t received concrete offers from teams interested in some of its key players, but Vice President Carlos Bocanegra on Wednesday said there have been inquiries into midfielder Ezequiel Barco, fullback George Bello and defender Franco Escobar.

Barco, a 22-year-old attacking player, would seem to be the most likely to be sold or wanted by clubs in Europe. He is coming off career bests in goals (seven), assists (eight), appearances (25) and minutes (2,138).

“Whether he’s here or not next year, that is still to be determined,” Bocanegra said. “He’s a player that has expressed interest in going overseas, and we also believe he has that ability to make that move. So that’s something that will be determined this offseason, but nothing is set in stone at the moment.”

Bocanegra said that Bello, a 19-year-old native of Douglasville, is a player that other clubs are asking about. He set a career high in assists (three), appearances (29) and minutes (2,433). He also earned two call-ups to appear for the U.S. men’s national team this year.

“You can imagine that the type of interest that he’s growing; he’ll be a tough decision for us in the offseason,” Bocanegra said.

With next year being a World Cup event, and Bello a possible starter or bench player for the U.S. should it qualify, it’s possible that Atlanta United may want to see if his value increases should he perform well in Qatar.

Turkish giants Galatasaray are among the clubs interested in Bello, according to previous reporting.

Another Atlanta United player, Escobar, who wasn’t with the club last season also is drawing inquiries, Bocanegra said. The club exercised the option on his contract Wednesday.

Escobar spent the past year on loan to Newell’s Old Boys in Argentina. Escobar was a solid performer for the Five Stripes from 2018-20 with 71 appearances, five goals and six assists. Able to play as a fullback, wingback or centerback, Escobar adds versatility. But Bocanegra said there is depth across the back line and the roster isn’t set, which portends a possible move for Escobar.

Bocanegra said the club and coaching staff have worked on keeping the players grounded and focusing on performing for the club. He noted that is something that Barco did well when he returned from competing for Argentina in the Summer Olympics earlier this year.

“Players come to Atlanta United, they want to continue the development path here and then have an opportunity to potentially go overseas or move on somewhere else,” Bocanegra said. “So we’re used to this. This is stuff that happens all the time in the offseason. It’s exciting for the players. It’s exciting for the fan base. And so it gives us really tough decisions to deal with in the offseason, but this is part for us.”

While those players may be leaving, Bocanegra said the team is looking to sign at least two MLS veterans to help the squad, which was among the youngest in the league last year.

“To give us a little bit more game understanding, game management, understanding of the league situations, things like that to balance out some of the youngsters that are young, hungry, ready to fly and go forward every time,” Bocanegra said. “Guys that can be a little bit more vocal on the pitch in certain positions. So those are the things that we’re looking to build upon.”

Among the possible positions the club may strengthen are at striker, to provide competition, and in the central midfield.

Bocanegra wouldn’t say how much space the club has under the league’s salary cap. He did said that the most important thing is the club’s nucleus will remain together. After Wednesday’s roster moves, the club has 28 players under contract. MLS clubs have rosters of as many as 30 players.

Neither Bocanegra nor Pineda would confirm if reported target Thiago Almada is joining the club.

“I’m very happy with the squad I have,” Pineda said. “I’m very confident that this team can do great things. It is a very complete squad. You never can expect to be perfect and have every little position covered 100 percent. There’s always issues with certain positions. That’s normal in football, but I can tell you that I’m more than happy with what I have now.”

About the Author

Editors' Picks