Atlanta United’s Bocanegra says Barco can be great – in time

Ezequiel Barco, of Argentina, speaks during a news conference introducing him to the Atlanta United MLS soccer team in Marietta, Ga., Thursday, Feb. 15, 2018. Atlanta United has high expectations for a new, young star in its second season after paying an MLS-record transfer fee of $15 million for 18-year-old Barco. Barco joins Atlanta's wave of young stars from South America that also includes Miguel Almiron, Hector Villalba and Josef Martinez. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

ATLANTA (AP) Atlanta United technical director Carlos Bocanegra wants to temper expectations that could accompany the record price the team paid for 18-year-old Ezequiel Barco.

Barco, a 5-foot-5 midfielder, was acquired for an MLS-record transfer fee of $15 million from Club Atletico Independiente of the Argentine first division. The deal was announced on Jan. 19.

Bocanegra said Thursday Barco brings more of the dynamic, attacking style that helped take Atlanta to the playoffs in its inaugural season. Even so, Bocanegra asked fans to be patient as Barco adjusts to the MLS.

”I think the signing of Ezequiel speaks to the style of player we like to bring to the club, young and attack-minded,” Bocanegra said at a news conference to introduce Barco.

”Yes, he came with a big price tag that everybody is aware of, but I don’t think it’s fair to put all the pressure on him. … We expect him to be a factor, definitely a dynamic factor, but we have to remember he’s 18 and a piece of the puzzle. He’s going to be a great piece of the puzzle we hope, but we don’t want him to come in with the expectation that he needs to score 20 goals and put the team on his back.”

When announcing the deal last month, Atlanta United president Darren Eales called the move a ”significant moment” in the team’s history.

It also was significant for the MLS as it showed the league’s ability to lure a player who traditionally may have been expected to land in Europe.

Barco said he has enjoyed his first two weeks of training and one preseason game as he adjusts to playing under Atlanta manager Gerardo ”Tata” Martino, also from Argentina.

”My teammates have really helped me adapt to the team quickly,” Barco said through a translator. ”I’m really happy to be here. I just want to say thanks to everyone here who’s helped me settle into the team.”

Barco confirmed he made an undisclosed financial donation to his former team in Argentina.

”It was a gesture that Independiente deserved, because they opened their doors to me,” he said. ”They gave me a chance so I wanted to say thank you.”

Atlanta helped to clear a spot for Barco by selling Yamil Asad to D.C. United. Asad played for Atlanta United last season while on loan from Velez Sarsfield in Argentina.

Atlanta qualified for the playoffs in its debut season as Bocanegra assembled a high-scoring roster. The team set an MLS season attendance record, averaging more than 46,000. Bocanegra was rewarded with a four-year contract extension through 2022.

Atlanta was the first expansion team to qualify for the playoffs since 2009 and only the second since 1998.

Bocanegra said he expects Barco’s skills to be a good fit for his new team as ”another dynamic attacking player.”

”So he can play on the left and come inside, he can play in the center or on the right,” Bocanegra said. ”He can play all across the middle, which we like, he’s diverse. But he’s shifty. His style of play matches up well with Miguel (Almiron), Josef (Martinez), and the other players in our attack to create good combinations and unbalance defenses.”