March 10, 2019 Atlanta: Atlanta United midfielder Ezequiel Barco if forced to work the ball away from FC Cincinnati defenders Alvas Powell (from left), Victor Ulloa, and Allan Cruz during the first half in their MLS soccer match on Sunday, March 10, 2019, in Atlanta. Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com
Photo: ccompton@ajc.com/Curtis Compton
Photo: ccompton@ajc.com/Curtis Compton

Barco could play for Atlanta United on Sunday

Atlanta United got a boost Friday with the return of Ezequiel Barco and George Bello to training with the first team ahead of Sunday’s game against D.C. United at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

Atlanta United manager Frank de Boer said Barco could return as early as Sunday. He said that decision will be made after Saturday’s training. 

Bello is still at least two weeks away and needs to play in the USL with Atlanta United 2 to regain his strength and sharpness. De Boer said Bello will train with the first team, though. 

“I think he has a bright future in front of him,” de Boer said. 

Barco hasn’t played in a league game for Atlanta United since scoring a goal and adding an assist in a 3-0 win at Sporting KC on May 5. Barco left the team to play in the U20 World Cup, returned to play in the U.S. Open Cup game at Columbus on June 18 in which he was kicked in the knee by Columbus’ Alex Crognale and sustained an injury that has kept him out since. He has four goals and an assist this season.

Bello, a 17-year-old Douglasville resident, has yet to appear in a league game for the Five Stripes this season because of adductor injuries. The presumed starter at left back before the season, Bello started the team’s first game this season at Herediano in the Champions League on Feb. 21 when he suffered the injury the first time. He played in one more game for Atlanta United 2 on March 9. He suffered the injury again in training April 30.

De Boer said it’s obvious that Bello hasn’t played in while based upon the quality of the crosses he hit Friday in training. 

“He has to come back to that strength he had in the beginning,” de Boer said. “We don’t want to rush him because we don’t want him to fall back, especially at his age. You want those players, every week a minimum of a proper game. That’s our goal for him.”

Not participating in Friday’s training session because they were resting were striker Josef Martinez (elbow), centerbacks Miles Robinson and Leandro Gonzalez Pirez (calf) and midfielders Darlington Nagbe and Andrew Carleton (hip). Martinez said his elbow is fine.

Also returning to training were fullback Mikey Ambrose, who is possible to return Sunday, and goalkeeper Alec Kann. Kevin Kratz has begun to work with a ball, but is still weeks away.

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