Is Atlanta United better off with or without Barco?

The results and stats tell an odd story
October 24, 2019 Atlanta: Atlanta United midfielder Ezequiel Barco works against Philadelphia in the Eastern Conference semifinals of the MLS playoffs on Thursday, October 24, 2019, in Atlanta.   Curtis Compton/



October 24, 2019 Atlanta: Atlanta United midfielder Ezequiel Barco works against Philadelphia in the Eastern Conference semifinals of the MLS playoffs on Thursday, October 24, 2019, in Atlanta. Curtis Compton/

Atlanta United has two wins this season with Ezequiel Barco in the lineup.

Atlanta United has two wins this season without Barco in the lineup.

The team would obviously prefer to have Barco, its last available Designated Player, as it tries to move from its current spot of 11th in the standings to somewhere above the 10-team playoff line. The schedule presents opportunities: two games at last place D.C. United, including Saturday’s, another against Cincinnati and another against Miami, the teams between the new black and red and the original red and black.

But Barco hasn’t been available. Despite it being minor enough to be keep his status as “day to day,” a yet-to-be-disclosed leg injury has kept Barco out of the past three games. Atlanta United won one of those games and lost the other two, including Sunday’s 2-0 defeat at Chicago.

“He did modified training to see how much, if anything, he could give us in the game tonight, and he can’t,” interim manager Stephen Glass said on Sunday. “He’s not healthy at the minute, he’s still injured. The injury means he can’t play at the moment. That’s as straight forward as it is.”

Barco’s absences continue a problematic trend for the player, who has now appeared in just 51 of a possible 82 league games for the squad. He has missed four games this season because of injuries. The total would be five had the first game at Inter Miami been played.

Last season, he appeared in just 15 of 34 league games. He missed the start of training camp after suffering a knee injury while with the Argentina U20 national team. Barco later missed seven games while playing for Argentina at the U20 World Cup. He returned, suffered a ligament injury at Columbus during the U.S. Open Cup, and missed the next seven games. He returned, suffered another undisclosed leg injury and missed five more games.

June 30, 2018 Atlanta: Atlanta United Ezequiel Barco works against two Orlando City defenders during the second half in a MLS soccer match on Saturday, June 30, 2018, in Atlanta.     Curtis Compton/


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In 2018, his first with the club, he appeared in 26 of 34 games. He missed three games late in the season because of a suspension enacted by manager Gerardo Martino. He missed the season’s first five games because of a hamstring injury.

Some of the team’s supporters have speculated that Barco is holding out in hopes of a transfer. Sevilla in Spain and Fiorentina in Italy have reportedly expressed interest. There is no evidence that is what Barco is doing, nor confirmation that other clubs are interested in purchasing him. As noted by Glass, Barco is training. Barco could be fined as much as $1,000 if he’s healthy and chooses not to participate in training. The fines can be levied per episode.

Barco’s transfer value in this soccer economy depressed by revenues negatively affected by COVID-19 is at $11.55 million, according to While that represents his highest value tracked by the website, it’s not close to the $13.5 million that Atlanta United reportedly paid to acquire him from Independiente in Argentina.

If Atlanta United is going to recoup its investment, and turn a profit, it will need to receive an offer a few million more than what it paid.

The question is will a team outside of MLS want to spend at least $15 million on an unproven player with a history of injuries?

Teams will often pay for potential. But that was when economies were strong and revenues not affected by a lack of ticket sales, parking, concessions, merchandise, etc.

Barco has potential because he has talent. It just hasn’t consistently translated into results: 10 goals and nine assists in 51 appearances. That’s playing with Josef Martinez, arguably the best striker in MLS history, Miguel Almiron, good enough to be sold to Newcastle for more than $25 million, and Pity Martinez, good enough to be sold to a club in Saudi Arabia for $20 million.

That’s why Barco needs to play as soon as he can. He needs to show that he can be consistently impactful in what remains of the season.

So far this season, he hasn’t been as impactful as one might anticipate.

The two wins that Barco has been part of? Josef Martinez and Pity Martinez also played in the first, and Pity Martinez in the second. The two wins he hasn’t? Pity Martinez was in the first and there were no DPs in the second.

So, the team has yet to win this season when Barco was the only DP available. Its record when he is the only DP to play is 0-2-2. Its record when he is the only DP available but doesn’t play is 1-2-0. Its record when he doesn’t play at all is 2-2-0.

The team averages 0.93 goals per game this season overall. It averaged 1.0 goals per game in the four games Barco didn’t play. It averaged 1.0 goal per game in the four games when Barco played and was the only DP.

Atlanta United forward Ezequiel Barco (from left), forward Josef Martinez, and midfielder Pity Martinez pose for a portrait at the team training ground on Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2020, in Marietta. Curtis Compton

Credit: Curtis Compton

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Credit: Curtis Compton

Digging deeper, looking at his potential and the things that don’t stand out as brightly as goals and assists but influence games:

  • Barco ranks 46th in MLS before Sunday’s games in Goal Creation Actions per 90 Minutes at a rate of 0.47 per games, according to He is second on the team behind Pity Martinez. Atlanta United as a team averages 1.69 GCA per 90.
  • Barco ranks 20th in MLS in Shot Creating Actions per 90 Minutes at a rate of 4.06. He is second on the team behind by Martinez. Atlanta United as a team averages 15.23 SCA per 90 this season. Before Sunday, in three games in which Barco didn’t play this season, the team averaged 15 SCA. In four games in which he played and was the only DP, the team averaged 14.75 SCA.

What story do the stats tell?

Barco, by himself, doesn’t appear capable of carrying this particular team. In fact, it doesn’t appear to matter if he plays with this particular team. The stats are similar regardless.

But it doesn’t stand to reason that the team is better off without Barco. He can be a facilitator to other DPs. Almiron and Pity Martinez are arguably two examples.

October 19, 2019 Atlanta - Atlanta United midfielder Ezequiel Barco (8) collies with New England Revolution defender Andrew Farrell (2) in the second half during the first round of the MLS playoffs at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Saturday, October 19, 2019. Atlanta United won 1-0 over the New England Revolution. (Hyosub Shin /


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Atlanta United coming games

Saturday at D.C. United (2-5-5), 7 p.m., FSS

Oct. 7 vs. Orlando (6-2-4), 7 p.m., FSS

Oct. 10 vs. New York Red Bulls (4-6-2), 6 p.m., FSS

Oct. 14 at Miami (3-7-2), 8 p.m., FSS

Oct. 18 at Toronto (6-2-4) in Hartford, Conn., 7:30 p.m., FSS

Oct. 24 vs. D.C. United (2-5-5), 4 p.m., FSS

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

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

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

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