Atlanta United set a high bar for itself during its expansion season, and it's pushing it even higher in Year 2.
Atlanta has signed Argentine playmaker Ezequiel Barco, 18, from Independiente in a reported $15 million transfer, setting an MLS record for transfer fee spent on a player. Toronto FC spent $10 million to land Michael Bradley from Roma in 2014 to set the standard, but Atlanta far exceeded that in continuing to stockpile its club with young, South American talent.
Last season, Atlanta spent big to land Miguel Almiron, sending $8.5 million to Lanus while top European clubs were reportedly interested in the 23-year-old Paraguayan star. The club's other Designated Player spots went to Venezuela's Josef Martinez (24 years old) and Hector Villalba (23), though one will likely have his DP distinction bought down with allocation money in order to make way for Barco. On the field, Barco figures to take the place of Yamil Asad, who was on loan from Velez Sarsfield and not retained after a strong season on the left wing.
Atlanta confirmed the long-awaited signing on Friday, during the MLS SuperDraft.
The teenage rising star, who can play on the left or in a central attacking role, helped lead Independiente to the Copa Sudamericana title, with his penalty kick the decisive goal in the final, and will have sky-high expectations upon his arrival in MLS.
He joins Darlington Nagbe as high-profile attacking additions brought in by Atlanta this winter, giving manager Tata Martino the enviable task of figuring out how to deploy so many capable threats. Young South American defenders Franco Escobar and Jose Hernandez and former FC Cincinnati goalkeeper Mitch Hildebrandt have also been signed this offseason.
According to reports, should Atlanta United try to spin Barco for a profit by the end of 2019, Independiente would receive 30% of the transfer fee. If he is sold after then, that number dips to 10%.