Atlanta United’s Barco explains seven-game absence

Atlanta United midfielder Ezequiel Barco (8) controls the ball against Orlando City midfielder Jhegson Sebas Mendez (8) during the second half of an MLS soccer match on Saturday, Aug. 29, 2020, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)
Atlanta United midfielder Ezequiel Barco (8) controls the ball against Orlando City midfielder Jhegson Sebas Mendez (8) during the second half of an MLS soccer match on Saturday, Aug. 29, 2020, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

Credit: Brynn Anderson

Credit: Brynn Anderson

The “knock” that prevented Ezequiel Barco from playing in seven consecutive Atlanta United games was discomfort in his leg that included inflammation in his quadriceps muscle.

Speaking to journalists for the first time since Sept. 17, Barco briefly described the injury, consistently described as a “knock” by the team, and said he couldn’t return to play until he fully recovered.

There were several instances of either interim manager Stephen Glass or Vice President Carlos Bocanegra saying it was possible that Barco would play in the next game, only for him to suffer a setback and not play. The team never disclosed the injury. Bocanegra said he didn’t want to because the information could be used by Atlanta United’s opponents.

Barco is expected to play in Saturday’s important game against D.C. United at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Atlanta United is in 11th place in the East. The top 10 teams will qualify for the playoffs. D.C. United is last in the East. It’s a game Atlanta United must win to improve the probability of qualifying for the postseason. It also is the second time this season that the team will play in front of supporters at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

“I feel happy that fans will be able to be there for the first time in a while,” Barco said. “Hopefully we can give them joy and win because we need to win this game.”

Barco came on as a second-half sub in last week’s 1-0 loss at Toronto. It was his first action since Sept. 12, when the team was beaten by Nashville 4-2 in Tennessee.

Though he has played in only 11 of the team’s 19 games, Barco’s two goals and three assists this season are close to leading the team in both categories.

Glass said he feels that having Barco back and playing with Marcelino Moreno, the team’s other healthy Designated Player, will help the team create more scoring chances. Atlanta United has put only one shot on goal in each of the past three games and been shut out in three of the past four. Barco and Moreno have trained with the team this week.

“We expect big performances from our big players,” Glass said. “Not to put pressure on them. They expect that themselves. They welcome the pressure and welcome the expectations.”

Having a small number of supporters in the building, which can seat more than 70,000, also should help Barco, Moreno and the team, Glass said.

“Top players respond to that,” he said. “I do think it’s been a big factor in some of the losses and poorer performances. Big players respond to noise, they respond to fans, they respond to expectations.”

With the possibility of only four games remaining, Barco said he doesn’t feel pressure to try to play as well as he can to impress clubs in Europe that could have an interest in buying him.

“I just want to play as best I can to try to help the team get into the playoffs,” he said.

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Atlanta United coming games

Saturday vs. D.C. United (2-5-5), 4 p.m., FSSE

Oct. 28 at Orlando (6-2-4), 7:30 p.m., FS1

Nov. 1 vs. Cincinnati (3-6-3), 7 p.m., FSSE

Nov. 8 at Columbus (8-1-3), 3:30 p.m., FSSE

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