The ball was hit by Ezequiel Barco with pace, sinisterly curving from right to left as if controlled remotely until finding the upper right side of Cody Cropper’s goal.
Though Barco scored four goals for the team last season, Saturday’s strike in a 2-0 win against New England was the type of quality that Atlanta United’s supporters have been waiting to see from the 19-year-old Argentine since he joined the club for a league record transfer fee of $15 million in January 2018.
Technique. Imagination. Power. Results.
It was the second of two goals scored by Barco on a beautiful night in New England. It was also his first multi-goal game with Atlanta United. The victory snapped Atlanta United’s four-game winless streak in MLS to start the season.
“We’ve been trying to get this first win since the first game of the season,” he said. “It’s really important for us. It’s great to be able to do it on the road as well. It gives us all more confidence.”
The goal was a long time coming only because in his first interview after arriving in the United States, a jet-lagged Barco described how he likes to dribble down the left, cut in on his right foot, and shoot.
The problem last season was Barco would frequently work himself into that position. Seldom would he shoot.
He cut loose on Saturday because he said he had a one-on-one opportunity and good chance to take on the defender.
Taking the shot was a sign that perhaps Barco is growing confident enough to take chances when he has the ball. Last year, he often played the safe pass or would hesitate to take on players one-on-one. Many supporters became frustrated, particularly after he was suspended in August for violating a team rule. After Barco returned, manager Gerardo Martino eventually moved him into a role as a reserve in the playoffs when a formation switch took him out of the starting lineup.
This season, he’s showing signs through nine games that he may be ready to become a key player.
“He’s a big piece when he’s on the field,” teammate Julian Gressel said. “To get him playing today, he’s going to be very valuable for us if he can continue to do so.”
The two goals increased Barco’s total to a team-leading three this season. His first was a header to earn a 1-1 draw with Philadelphia. His second was a tap-in in the first half on Saturday from an assist by Hector Villalba. The second, the golazo, was also assisted by Villalba.
“Those goals are for him,” Barco said. “He made a great run to setup the first goal.”
Barco’s goals may not have happened if not for an injury sustained by Eric Remedi in the first half. Barco was forced into the game in the 15th minute when Remedi was taken off with symptoms of a concussion.
“It was a tough moment for Eric because he wasn’t able to continue,” Barco said. “I tried to go in with the same will that I always do.”
Manager Frank de Boer said Barco didn’t start because he wanted Darlington Nagbe to play underneath Josef Martinez. When Remedi needed to leave the game, Nagbe dropped back to take up his defensive midfielder position and Barco played attacking midfielder.
“You want that kind of response from every substitute,” de Boer said.
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