Atlanta United completed the signing of 18-year-old Ezequiel Barco from Argentina side Independiente, sealing the largest transfer in Major League Soccer history.
The MLS club did not confirm details of the deal, but sources told ESPN Argentina last week that Independiente had agreed to sell the budding star for an MLS-record $15 million, plus 30 percent of any future transfer before December 2019, or 10 percent if Atlanta sells Barco after that date.
And Atlanta announced it has completed the signing of Barco as a young designated player during Friday’s MLS SuperDraft.
The transfer fee smashes the $10 million that Toronto FC paid Roma for Michael Bradley in 2013. Only a year ago, Atlanta also spent about $8.5 million to acquire Paraguayan standout Miguel Almiron from another Argentina club, Lanus.
— Atlanta United FC (@ATLUTD) January 19, 2018
“It speaks to the type of club that we’re becoming that Ezequiel chose to sign with our club over several European competitors,” Atlanta United technical director Carlos Bocanegra said in a statement. “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, who was under contract with Independiente until June 2019, helped his club win the Copa Sudamericana — South America’s second-largest international tournament — by scoring a penalty in the second leg of the final against Flamengo in December.
In the domestic Argentina league, the attacking midfielder scored five goals in 38 appearances over the past two seasons.
After reports of the completed deal broke a week ago, Independiente wrote a farewell tweet, saying: “You arrived as a kid. You grew in the youth team and you leave as a champion. Everything ends, glory is eternal. Thank you and success, Ezequiel!”
The move continues a busy winter for Atlanta, which made the playoffs in its inaugural season under Argentine coach Gerardo Martino, while also breaking the MLS record for average attendance in a season at 48,200 fans.
The club has signed a pair of U.S. internationals in Darlington Nagbe and Greg Garza, and added to its formidable stack of young South American talent with defenders Franco Escobar, 22 from Argentina, and 20-year-old Jose Hernandez from Venezuela.
“Securing a player of Ezequiel’s caliber is another significant moment in Atlanta United history,” Atlanta United president Darren Eales said. “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.”
Almiron, 23, was named MLS’s top newcomer of 2017 and also had the league’s top-selling jersey. He is one of three designated players on the club along with Venezuelan star Josef Martinez, 24, and Argentine Hector Villalba, 23.
Atlanta did not immediately announce whose DP contract they will buy down with allocation money to make way for Barco, but it is likely to be Villalba, whose base salary was the smallest at $663,000. The club has until March 1 to be compliant with MLS rules.
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