Before he even played a game in the MLS, Ezequiel Barco made league history.
Atlanta United paid a league-record $15 million to poach him from Independiente in Argentina, sending Five Stripes fans into a riotous frenzy of celebration.
“I’d say it’s likely,” said Jason Longshore, an Atlanta soccer commentator who hosts the Soccer Down Here podcast. “Last year, [forward Josef] Martinez and [midfielder Carlos] Carmona joined the team a few days before the Chattanooga match and they played about 30 minutes. If he’s healthy, I think he gets at least a cameo.”
There’s a reason United fans held a weeks-long #BarcoWatch vigil: He’s a rare talent who stands to create opportunities using his athletic abilities and technical skill.
“Barco will be able to beat defenders 1-v-1, something Atlanta lacked last year,” Longshore said. “He’s also a great creator for his teammates. I think his presence will make it harder for teams to choose to bunker.”
If Barco does play, he will provide an immediate test for Nashville SC’s five-man back line, which could feature as many as three MLS veterans — Justin Davis, Kosuke Kimura and London Woodberry.
“As a footballer all you want to do is get better,” said Taylor Washington, a candidate for a starting fullback role. “In order to do that you have to play the best teams and the best players in the world. [Atlanta] bring in some big names and some great talent, and I’m excited we’re gonna go up against them.”
While the prospect of facing Atlanta’s ferocious offense may excite players, Nashville SC Coach Gary Smith acknowledges it’s only a small part of preseason preparations.
“The challenge next Saturday is going to be very different, I would imagine, to what we’re gonna face throughout the year,” Smith said. “While I want to make sure the guys are ready for that, it’s part of a buildup and process that should prepare them for the opening game of the season.”