Atlanta United signs Ezequiel Barco from Independiente in record-breaking deal

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Tata Martino's side has secured another transfer coup from South America, this time landing a prized Argentine attacking midfielder

Atlanta United has officially landed 18-year-old Ezequiel Barco from Argentina side Independiente as a young designated player, the club announced Friday.

The MLS team paid $15 million for the Argentine Under-20 international, according to ESPN, besting an MLS record that was set when Toronto FC spent $10M for Michael Bradley in 2013.

"Securing a player of Ezequiel’s caliber is another significant moment in Atlanta United history," Atlanta United president Darren Eales said in a news release. "This transfer further demonstrates the commitment of our club to bring top level, dynamic young players to Atlanta and to MLS. We are excited to welcome Ezequiel to our club and our city."

Atlanta, which joined MLS as an expansion side prior to the 2017 season, already has a reputation of bringing young South American talent to the league. A little over year ago, the club coached by Gerardo "Tata" Martino spent a reported $8.5 million to acquire Paraguayan midfielder Miguel Almiron from Lanus.

The 23-year-old Almiron took MLS by storm, scoring nine goals and adding 14 assists in 30 appearances during his debut season. Atlanta will hope Barco can make an instant impact as well, after beating several European suitors for his signature this winter.

"It speaks to the type of club that we’re becoming that Ezequiel chose to sign with our club over several European competitors," Atlanta technical director Carlos Bocanegra said. "As one of the top young players in South America who has been a fixture in the Argentinian youth national team setup, we’re elated that he’s decided to continue his career in Atlanta."

Barco has impressed with Argentine power Independiente since joining the first team as a 17-year-old in 2016. He helped his club win the Copa Sudamericana in 2017 by scoring a penalty in the final against Flamengo.

Independiente confirmed his departure by sending a farewell message to the teenager on Twitter last week, saying: "You came here a boy, you grew up in the pension and you leave a champion. Everything can happen, but glory is eternal. Thanks and the best of luck, Ezequiel!"

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Barco will be joining a new-look Atlanta side that signed U.S. internationals Darlington Nagbe and Greg Garza, while adding South American defenders Franco Escobar, 22, and Jose Hernandez, 20, during the offseason.

Atlanta broke the MLS record for attendance with an average of 48,200 fans and finished its inaugural season with a 15-9-10 record. After finishing fourth in the Eastern Conference, Atlanta was eliminated from the playoffs by the Columbus Crew in a shootout thriller.

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