Atlanta United: What does Ezequiel Barco’s World Cup success mean?

Ezequiel Barco of Argentina controls the ball during the friendly match between Argentina and France U20 at Pinatar Arena in Murcia, Spain on March 20 2019. (Photo by Jose Breton/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
Ezequiel Barco of Argentina controls the ball during the friendly match between Argentina and France U20 at Pinatar Arena in Murcia, Spain on March 20 2019. (Photo by Jose Breton/NurPhoto via Getty Images) /

Argentina lost in the Round of 16 of the U20 World Cup on Tuesday, but Ezequiel Barco impressed throughout the competition. What does that mean for Atlanta United?

On Tuesday afternoon, in the Round of 16 of the U20 World Cup, the Argentina U20s lost to the Mali U20s on penalties after regular time ended in a 1-1 draw and extra time ended in a 2-2 draw. Thanks to Ezequiel Barco’s deflected shot that was classed as an own goal, Argentina went up 2-1 for most of extra time until eventually conceding the equalizer.

Barco was the standout player for Argentina’s four-match run in the tournament. The 20-year-old scored two goals and recorded two assists. One of his goals was this amazing curled volley and his other goal was a cooly slotted penalty. He was masterful on the wing and in the midfield for La Albiceleste and many took notice of his play.

With Barco impressing many on the world stage, what does it mean for Atlanta United? What does it mean for Major League Soccer as a whole?

What does it mean for Atlanta United?

First and foremost, Barco’s impressive showings at the U20 World Cup mean clubs around the world are looking at Barco. It means teams are scouting him more than before, and it means they will be watching when he returns to Atlanta. It also means that a club overseas is likely to buy him from Atlanta in the coming years.

A sale means Atlanta United will get a return on their initial investment. Not too long ago, Atlanta’s signing of Barco was the record for an incoming transfer to MLS. For most observers, the signing was seen as an investment. If Atlanta can sell Barco for $20-25 million, the club will receive a significant return on that investment.

A sale of Barco also has larger implications for Atlanta and their long-term goals. They want to be a club that signs young talent, develops and showcases it, and then sells it on for profit. The Five Stripes did it with Miguel Almiron, but one significant sale likely won’t be good enough for such an ambitious club.

Selling and making profit on Barco would be even more impressive than what the club did with Almiron. Atlanta signed Almiron when he was 23, meaning he was somewhat of a known commodity. With Barco, they took a much larger risk by signing an 18-year-old. If Atlanta can sign a teenager and develop and sell him, that means their system works all that much better than previously thought.

A side bonus for Atlanta: with great play comes a boost in confidence. That means Barco can pick up right where he left off when joined Argentina for the tournament. Before he left for international duty, Barco had four goals and one assist to his name, leading the team in goals scored. If he returns anywhere close to that form, and potentially even better, Atlanta United are set up for a wonderful run through the summer months.

What does it mean for MLS?

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Just as Atlanta United’s signing of Pity Martinez and sale of Miguel Almiron had huge effects on Major League Soccer as a whole, Barco’s performance in Poland may have its own consequences. As Atlanta proved with Almiron, the club is capable of buying young South American talent and turning it for profit. Atlanta may be able to do the same with Barco, and a huge sale will have big effects on the league, not just the club.

If other clubs in the league see how successful (and consistent) Atlanta is with its signings and sales, they may try to replicate the Five Stripes’ success. Just look at LAFC, who have 19-year-old Uruguayan winger Diego Rossi. As LAFC dominate the league, many will look at Rossi as a player who can succeed overseas. With Atlanta paving the way in buying and selling young talent, many around the world will look at MLS as legitimate.

The league is already getting a boost from the successes of Tyler Adams and Alphonso Davies, two players who were developed in MLS and sold to big European clubs. Now, with Almiron’s success in England and the amazing skills displayed by Barco and Rossi, big teams from around the world may come knocking.

Next. Atlanta United: 3 things we learned from last week. dark

Barco’s performance at the U20 World Cup only boosts that positive perception of the league, encouraging the continued rise of MLS on the global soccer stage. Clubs can look to Atlanta and Barco as yet another success story in the progress of evolution of MLS.