Ezequiel Barco dyed his hair a sandy silver because he said he felt like it.
But it seems like decent foretelling that the color of Barco’s hair won’t be the only anything different about the 19-year-old Atlanta United midfielder this season.
“I just work hard every day to be available to the coaching staff, to be ready to do whatever they asked me to do,” he said. “Hopefully we can have a good year and we are working toward that.”
Last season didn’t go as well as anyone thought it would for Barco after a $15 million transfer from Independiente in Argentina. Injuries, immaturity and a change in formation saw Barco’s effectiveness limited to just four goals and three assists in 26 appearances, including 19 starts. Though he played an important role off the bench in the playoffs and run to the MLS Cup, Barco off the bench wasn’t the prediction when the season started.
But that was then and, for legitimate reasons, Barco’s lack of expected impact can be understood.
First, he was just 18 years old when he moved to a new country with a new language and customs. Second, he was playing in a new league with a new club, manager and teammates. It’s a lot to absorb. It’s a lot to solve.
And, at times, Barco’s decision-making was faulty, resulting in a three-game suspension late in the season.
To his credit, Barco almost always came out to try to answer questions about his performances, even on his first day with Atlanta United when he was jet-lagged and tired after a flight from Buenos Aires, Argentina to Orlando.
A year later, Barco said he is more comfortable with everything, even the reports that the team, forced by MLS rules that limit teams to three Designated Players, may have been trying to send him on loan in order to comply with league rules. It was a report that Atlanta United never confirmed but was out on social media.
“I think they are (were) rumors but I see the same reports you guys see,” he said. “My representative handles that stuff. All I can do is focus on myself and the preseason and get ready for the year.”
Watch him during training the past two weeks pinging passes with the inside or outside of his right foot and it’s easy to see why Atlanta United wasn’t the only team keen to sign him. He appears more aggressive than last season when he seemed at times hesitant to try to beat a defender with the dribble, or even to shoot when he would work himself into good positions.
“I’m just trying to get as many minutes as I can and adapt and understand what the coaching staff wants us to do,” he said.
During the numerous scrimmages the team has run the first two weeks, Barco appears more inclined to move up and down the field than side to side, which seemed to be the case last season. New manager Frank de Boer has moved Barco around the midfield. Sometimes he has played on the right, sometimes on the left, which is where he played most of last season, and sometimes in the middle in Miguel Almiron’s former spot.
Barco was one of the 11 starters in Saturday’s 7-1 win against Seattle in the team’s first preseason game. Barco contributed to the opening goal.
“Barco is progressing every week better,” de Boer said. “He’s still very young but has amazing quality.”
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