Former Chicago Fire and Houston Dynamo forward Calen Carr believes Major League Soccer has entered a new era with an increased emphasis on young signings, led by one of the league’s newest names, Atlanta United.

The MLS returns for a 23rd season on Saturday, with four games to be shown live on Sky Sports.

Toronto FC, who host Columbus Crew in the weekend’s opening fixture, are the competition favourites after lifting the MLS Cup last term.

Atlanta are considered to be one of the dark horses after finishing fourth in the Eastern Conference last year and have added 18-year-old Ezequiel Barco from Argentinian side Independiente for a league record fee of $15m.

Atlanta are hoping Barco can follow in the footsteps of Miguel Almiron, who impressed in his first year at the club with nine goals in 30 appearances.

Carr told Sky Sports News on Wednesday: “The MLS for so long has been known for some of the big names that have come across, David Villa being one of the biggest.

“But it is Atlanta United who have really changed the model for MLS in a lot of ways. Bringing over [Miguel] Almiron last year and filling up their stadium with 72,000 people watching them. Now they are taking the next step.

“If you thought this team couldn’t get scarier in the attack, watch out. Ezequiel Barco comes in for a record $15m transfer fee.

Atlanta have signed 18-year-old Ezequiel Barco for a league-record fee
Atlanta have signed 18-year-old Ezequiel Barco for a league-record fee

“This is a new day for MLS, a new type of signing and you are seeing the ripple effect happen throughout the league. If you look at the nine designated players that came into MLS this year in the off-season, the average age is 22 years old.

“Almiron is rumoured to be linked to Arsenal and AC Milan reportedly for $18m this season. Hopefully they can hang on to him but they bought him for $8m so he is the model for hopefully making this work both on the field and potentially a good business move.”

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