The game was going to end in a 2-2 draw because there were just a few seconds remaining between Atlanta United and LAFC, but Ezequiel Barco sprinted down the field before making a slide tackle.
It was an effort that wasn’t needed, but it caught manager Frank de Boer’s attention.
“It’s good to see,” de Boer said. “He’s eager to learn.”
It was a moment that others on Atlanta United noticed and talked about after Sunday’s friendly at Banc of California Stadium in Los Angeles.
It was another sign that the Barco that Atlanta United’s supporters saw last season isn’t going to be the Barco they will see this season. It’s almost like Atlanta United has a new player in the 19-year-old midfielder from Argentina.
For the third preseason game, he was aggressive on offense and disciplined on defense, two things that were inconsistent last year in his first season in MLS in which he had four goals and three assists in 26 appearances.
After a strong run down the left channel, Barco won the foul that led to the free kick scored by Pity Martinez to give Atlanta United a 1-0 lead. He followed that with a smart pass to Josef Martinez, whose pass led to Julian Gressel’s goal and a 2-0 lead. If it were a regular-season game, Barco likely would have been given an assist.
Barco wasn’t the only Atlanta United player who continued to perform almost like a new player.
Miles Robinson, a third-year player who had 10 appearances his first two seasons, started in the middle of a three-man backline for the third consecutive preseason game with the first team and again was all over the middle of the field making tackles or cutting out passes.
It was reminiscent of performances made by teammate Michael Parkhurst, who lined up on Robinson’s right on Sunday, the previous two seasons.
Robinson could be considered at fault for LAFC’s first goal because he appeared to fall down or slip on the soaking wet grass in the run-up. De Boer said he thought Robinson was tripped and it could have been a foul.
“Miles again played a fantastic game,” de Boer said.