Atlanta United has options to replace Barco vs NYCFC

Atlanta United midfielder Ezequiel Barco (8) executed a pass during the match against Toronto FC Saturday, Oct. 16, 2021, at BMO Training Ground in Toronto, Ontario. (Jacob Gonzalez/Atlanta United)

Credit: Jacob Gonzalez/Atlanta United

caption arrowCaption
Atlanta United midfielder Ezequiel Barco (8) executed a pass during the match against Toronto FC Saturday, Oct. 16, 2021, at BMO Training Ground in Toronto, Ontario. (Jacob Gonzalez/Atlanta United)

Credit: Jacob Gonzalez/Atlanta United

Ezequiel Barco had played 1,164 consecutive minutes for Atlanta United until he was given a red card in the 84th minute of Saturday’s 2-0 win at Toronto.

Unless Atlanta United appeals the red card decision and wins, the team will be without him for Wednesday’s pivotal game against NYCFC at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. If the team wins, it will have 45 points and could move as high as fourth place in the East with four games remaining. The teams that finish as the top four seeds are guaranteed to host at least one playoff game.

Coaches often say it’s up to the next man up when another player isn’t in the gameday roster. But Barco hasn’t been just another replaceable player this season. With seven goals, seven assists and second on the team in winning duels, he’s arguably the team’s most complete player this season.

How can manager Gonzalo Pineda replace Barco’s production?

Even without Barco, Atlanta United has plenty of talent, as noted by fullback George Bello after Saturday’s win. Josef Martinez, who leads the team with 10 goals, is scheduled to return. Luiz Araujo, who scored the winning goal against Toronto, is proving in short bursts to be a different level of player in MLS. Marcelino Moreno, with eight goals and five assists, creates moments of brilliance when games are stretched.

The easiest solution would be, as noted earlier, plug-and-play.

Jake Mulraney is as quick as Barco but has shown to be a player who typically is better out wide delivering crosses than as an attacking player taking on defenders and going to goal in the final third. He is capable of taking the ball in one third of the field and running at opponents before setting up teammates. Mulraney has one goal and two assists in 1,070 minutes. He has a non-penalty expected goals plus expected assists of 0.28. Barco’s is 0.35.

Erik Lopez would be a wildcard. Signed as a striker, he was converted into a winger by previous manager Gabriel Heinze. Pineda mentioned Lopez as a possible replacement for Martinez as a striker last week in its prep for Toronto, which is a sign that he may have moved him back to his natural position. Lopez has one goal in 869 minutes. He has an npxG+xA of 0.23.

Jurgen Damm, who has played 135 minutes, is another intriguing possibility. He has the speed. What he has yet to show is an ability to apply skill with speed. Among many issues is he usually plays on the right because he is very one-footed. He has an npxG+xA of 0.27.

Machop Chol, a rookie who has played 427 minutes, would be another wildcard. Because of speed and maturity, Chol showed potential during the preseason games under Heinze but has barely been used by any of the managers since.

Pineda may also choose to move Moreno from his attacking midfielder position to the wing, slide Matheus Rossetto up into the “10,” and then pair Mo Adams or Amar Sejdic with Santiago Sosa as dual defensive midfielders.

Rossetto prefers to play as a central or attacking midfielder. When paired with Sosa, Pineda has asked him, when the team has the ball, to step forward and attack defenses. He led the team with three chances created against Toronto. That may be more of an outlying performance. Last season and this season, there are fewer examples of him creating multiple chances in a game than any chances. He has an npxG+xA of 0.04.

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Atlanta United’s 2021 MLS schedule

April 17 Atlanta United 0, Orlando 0

April 24 Atlanta United 3, Chicago 1

May 1 New England 2, Atlanta United 1

May 9 Atlanta United 1, Inter Miami 1,

May 15 Atlanta United 1, Montreal 0

May 23 Atlanta United 1, Seattle 1

May 29 Atlanta United 2, Nashville 2

June 20 Atlanta United 2, Philadelphia 2

June 23 NYCFC 1, Atlanta United 0

June 27 Atlanta United 0, New York Red Bulls 0

July 3 Chicago 3, Atlanta United 0

July 8 Atlanta United 2, Nashville 2

July 17 New England 1, Atlanta United 0

July 21 Atlanta United 1, Cincinnati 1

July 24 Columbus 1, Atlanta United 0

July 30 Orlando 3, Atlanta United 2

Aug. 4 Atlanta United 2, Montreal 2

Aug. 7 Atlanta United 3, Columbus 2

Aug. 15 Atlanta United 1, LAFC 0

Aug. 18 Atlanta United 1, Toronto

Aug. 21 Atlanta United 2, D.C. United 1

Aug. 28 Nashville 2, Atlanta United 0

Sept. 10 Atlanta United 3, Orlando 0

Sept. 15 Atlanta United 4, Cincinnati 0

Sept. 18 Atlanta United 3, D.C. United 2

Sept. 25 Philadelphia 1, Atlanta United 0

Sept. 29 Atlanta United 1, Inter Miami 0

Oct. 2 Montreal 2, Atlanta United 1

Oct. 16 Atlanta United 2, Toronto 0

Oct. 20 vs. NYCFC, 7:30 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

Oct. 27 vs. Inter Miami, 7:30 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

Oct. 30 vs. Toronto, 6 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

Nov. 3 at New York Red Bulls, TBD, FS1

Nov. 7 at Cincinnati, 3:30 p.m., BSSO/BSSE