Barcos Debut Ends in a Draw for Atlanta United
By: Caleb Johnson
On September 16th of last year, two fighters stepped into the ring to decide the middleweight world championship of boxing. The whole world watched as a one-loss Canelo Alvarez and his undefeated adversary Gennady Golovkin clashed for 12 rounds of grueling competition only to watch it end in a split decision or draw. That intensity and ultimate frustration were felt in Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Sunday night as Atlanta United came to a 2-2 draw with New York City FC.
The night began with excitement as Atlanta United fans discovered coveted new talent Ezequiel Barco was on the active roster. The 19-year-old Phenom from Argentina made headlines during the offseason for being the most expensive transfer in Major League Soccer history. His $15 million price tag came with high hopes and expectations that were quickly met with worry when a quad strain held out Barco for the first five games. The midfielder finally made his debut in the 69th minute for United, who were up 2-1 at the time. It can be assumed Manager Tata Martino was looking for a spark in offense late in the match that never quite materialized.
The early minutes of the match foreshadowed what would ensue as both teams produced quality plays, but neither could get the right touch. It wasn’t until the 29th minute that Miguel Almiron fired the ball right to left on goalie Sean Johnson which was initially blocked but then chipped in by Greg Garza. The defender followed his goal with a tribute celebration to his son that included a heart shape created by his hands and said, “Every time I score a goal I think of family.”
New York notched their own first goal on a penalty shot taken by David Villa almost 10 minutes later (38’). Villa managed to fake out Atlanta keeper Brad Guzan just long enough to sweep the ball to the left of the goal past the veteran’s outstretched arms.
The succession of events immediately following New York’s goal will certainly spawn frustration from United fans for the foreseeable future. In the 41st minute, Darlington Nagbe fielded a strong pass from Julian Gressel and flicked the ball into the top of the net from the “D.” However, after a video replay, referees determined Josef Martinez was offside impeding keeper Sean Johnson (Brookwood High School Alum), and the goal was waived off. Confusion is the best word to describe how players on the pitch and fans in the stands felt. When asked whether the goal should have counted? Nagbe candidly replied, “I don’t know what the rule is…I don’t know if it’s like he has to be able to save it.”
Coming out of the half both teams spent quality minutes on either half of the pitch with little time playing the middle of the field. Finally, in the 57th minute, Chris McCann took a header of a near perfect cross from Almiron that hit the back of the net and gave United the lead once again. Even with the lead late in the match, the game never felt in hand and tension could be felt throughout the stadium. Fan chants were less about fun and synchronous claps. They were about creating grueling noise to optimistically throw off NYC.
Alexander Ring put through the equalizer in the 73rd minute that seemed to deflate Atlanta. The shot almost assuredly looked to come flying back off the crossbar, but instead to a direct downward angle escaping the hands of Guzan. That shot would be the last for a frustrating final result.
Atlanta United will have their hands full next Saturday, April 21st as they travel to Los Angeles to face the Galaxy. Zlatan Ibrahimović has quickly made his impact known since joining LA two weeks ago, firing off shots that frequently make Sports Center Top 10. The game has an extremely late 10:30 pm start time being on the west coast so get your rest and some caffeine.