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Anatomy of a Goal: Barco slices through the Crew for early opener

This week we look at Ezequiel Barco’s fifth-minute goal that led Atlanta United to a win in Columbus.

MLS: Atlanta United FC at Columbus Crew SC Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to the Anatomy of a Goal, where each week we dissect one goal (or near goal) from the previous Columbus Crew match.

For match 18 of the 2021 MLS season, we take a look at Ezequiel Barco’s fifth-minute goal that gave Atlanta United a lead they did not relinquish in Saturday’s match against the Crew.

Here’s a look at the goal from Atlanta’s young attacker.

Columbus started Saturday’s match against the Five Stripes looking to avoid a second home loss in a row. The Black & Gold began brightly with a Darlington Nagbe shot in the first minute but Atlanta was able to weather the early push.

Barco’s goal starts with Atlanta goalkeeper Brad Guzan snuffing out a Gyasi Zardes chance.

Guzan throws the ball to center back Miles Robinson who then plays a pass up the sideline to Ronald Hernandez.

Hernandez surveys his option while a slight press from the Crew kicks in. Lucas Zelarayan and Kevin Molino box in Hernandez, forcing a pass back to Robinson.

Hernandez drops the ball back to Robinson with Molino and Zelarayan in pursuit.

Robinson spots the pressure and drops the ball back to Alan Franco to reset the possession.

Robinson drops back into a support position and Franco hits a pass his way.

Robinson takes a touch forward and finds himself with five options. He can play a pass up the sideline to Hernandez, a long pass forward to striker Jackson Conway, a difficult pass around Marlon Hairston to Barco (8), carry the ball forward or play a touch pass to Mattheus Rosetto (9).

Robinson plays the ball forward into the space right between Conway and Barco.

Conway tracks back but sees Barco in position to receive the pass.

Barco picks up the pass and immediately turns across the midfield line. Behind Barco, you can see four midfielders highlighted. Columbus’ press relies on the midfield and attack chasing down the ball in the opponent’s defensive end. When the press resets or stops, as it did when Robinson received the ball, it’s imperative that the midfield shifts back into a defensive position or that the defensive line steps forward to close the gap between the two lines.

In this instance, neither happened. Barco is able to find about 20 yards of space between the midfield and defensive line. Robinson spotted him and played a pass the beat the entire Black & Gold midfield.

Hairston gives chase as Barco dribbles alone toward the Crew backline.

Midfielder-turned-defender Liam Fraser is able to redirect Barco’s dribble but this gives additional time for the Five Stripes’ attack to develop. Marcelino Moreno trails the play while George Bello makes an unmarked run up the sideline.

Hairston gains ground as Barco continues forward. Bello looks to make a run in behind Harrison Afful.

Barco feels Hairston’s pressure and must decide whether to attempt to continue his dribble, play a quick pass forward to Bellow or pass the ball into the path of Moreno.

Hairston attempts a tackle just as Barco plays the ball forward to Bello. Bello was briefly in an offside position but moved onside just before the ball was played to him.

Bello prepares to receive the ball under pressure from Afful and must choose between three options. He can play a drop pass to Moreno, turn away from Afful and then toward the goal or play a difficult flick into the path of Barco. Barco has gained a step on Jonathan Mensah and is running free toward the goal.

Bello, confident from a strong run with the United States Men’s National Team, uses a first-touch backward flick to redirect Barco’s pass back into the path of the young attacker.

Bello’s flick is perfectly weighted as Barco leaves Mensah behind. There are no Black & Gold defenders between Barco and the ball.

Barco approaches the ball and tees up a first-touch shot toward Eloy Room’s left.

Barco puts the ball closer to Room than he should have. Room gets down and appears to have a chance at the ball.

The shot just scoots under Room’s hand...

...and into the back of the net.


  1. The Crew’s press initially did its job to send the ball back toward the United goal but gets drawn too far forward against a three-man backline.
  2. Barco and Robinson are able to locate and exploit the huge gap that develops between Columbus’ midfield and defense.
  3. With neither defensive midfielder nearby, Barco is free to dribble from midfield until nearly the top of the goal box.
  4. Bello’s flick to Barco is excellent and catches the Black & Gold totally off guard. Mensah should have stuck with Barco following Hairston’s sliding challenge.
  5. Barco scores from a difficult angle but Room will feel like this is a shot he could, and should, have saved.