As a huge fan of European soccer, I usually stray away from watching the MLS because the difference in quality is so noticeably vast. However, this year I’ll be making an exception by trying to tune in to watch as many Atlanta United games as I possibly can.
Last year, Atlanta United became the third-ever MLS expansion team to qualify for the playoffs in their inaugural season. Stacked with an abundance of young attacking talent, they emerged as one of the most exciting offensive teams in MLS, scoring the second-most goals in the league with 70.
A big reason they were able to acquire all of that young talent was due to the hiring of former Barcelona and Argentina manager Tata Martino. He has plenty of experience with talented attackers, as he’s coached the likes of Leo Messi, Neymar, Angel di Maria, Paulo Dybala, Sergio Aguero, Gonzalo Higuain, Mauri Icardi and many more. With Martino’s resume and South American roots, it’s easy to see how he’s been able to assemble a front four that is already looking to lead Atlanta to a MLS Cup in just its second season.
Let’s have a look at that front four, shall we?
First up is Atlanta’s big-money signing Ezequiel Barco, who started playing for the Independiente first team just a few months after his 17th birthday. In his first full season, he accumulated 4 goals and 3 assists while making 30 appearances for the Argentinian side.
He quickly became one of the most sought-after prospects in all of South America with many top European clubs keying in on him. However, Atlanta United shocked many when they paid an MLS-record $15 million for Barco, snatching him away from the bigger European clubs. This really speaks volumes about Martino’s influence, as he was able to convince a big prospect to join MLS instead of heading to Europe.
It is important to note, however, that Ezequiel Barco suffered a quad injury in preseason and will be out for 4-6 weeks, but when he returns, it won’t be long before he’s turning heads all over the country. He’s very fast, a wonderful dribbler, and appears to be a genuine two-footed player. This adds another dimension to his game, as he can either cut in from the left wing or try to beat a defender down the line and fire a ball into the danger area. The season hasn’t even started yet, and MLS fans are already eagerly anticipating his return.