Atlanta United

Atlanta United boss Gonzalo Pineda reveals key to Ezequiel Barco improvement

Chris Smith
Barco has posted at least one direct goal involvement in seven of his last eight MLS appearances.
Barco has posted at least one direct goal involvement in seven of his last eight MLS appearances. / Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Ezequiel Barco has five goals and four assists to his name in eight MLS appearances since returning from the Olympic Games.

That's a remarkable return considering the Argentine managed just one goal and zero assists in the same number of games prior to Tokyo.

There are plenty of tactical and personnel reasons for this turnaround in form. For one, Barco has been deployed much further up the pitch under interim manager Rob Valentino and new permanent head coach Gonzalo Pineda.

What's more, laying on chances for and making runs off the likes of Josef Martinez, Luiz Araujo and Marcelino Moreno, all fully fit and in form, is a creative player's dream. It's much more favourable than Barco's situation earlier this year and during 2020, when he was providing for the likes of Adam Jahn and Cubo Torres.

But after his latest goal and assist performance in Atlanta United's 4-0 thrashing of FC Cincinnati on Wednesday, Pineda instead chose to highlight Barco's 'hunger' in training, with the 22-year-old bringing the same intensity to practice sessions as he would a match.

“We have to remember that he is still a young player. He came into the league I think 17 or 18 years old and he’s been progressing, he’s been evolving, he’s more mature now," Pineda told reporters following Wednesday's match. "He’s also very hungry and that’s one of the key factors that I can identify as important for his performance.

"I watch every session. He kills himself on the field. Sometimes I’m a little bit concerned, managing his load because he is playing many games. He goes and performs in every training session the same way that you just saw. Scoring goals, counter-pressing, running in behind, creating chances for his team. And that’s what amazes me about Barco. He’s very hungry."

Pineda even suggested there is yet more to come from Barco, who may not yet be at his full potential.

"I think he has a very high ceiling," the Mexican added. "I don’t think we are seeing the best Barco, but what we are seeing now is very good."

Wednesday's win was Atlanta's sixth in their last seven MLS games, moving them into seventh and above the playoff line for the first time since May 23rd.

The Five Stripes are entering a critical period where, in their next four games, they face the four sides two places either side of them in the standings. Up next is DC United at home on Saturday, followed by the Philadelphia Union, Inter Miami and CF Montreal.