At first, he cried with joy and broke the news to his family. Then, Thiago Almada needed to catch a plane. Quickly.
The Atlanta United midfielder was called up to Argentina’s World Cup squad as an injury replacement just days before the team’s opening game.
“I was a little surprised. The call made me cry,” she said. “Then the first thing I did was tell my family and then I had to travel that night.”
After a whirlwind campaign in Qatar that culminated with the Argentine lifting the game’s most prestigious trophy, Almada is back in Major League Soccer for his second season with Atlanta United.
Alameda is the first active MLS player to win the World Cup. Twelve others who have played in MLS, including David Villa, Thierry Henry, Andrea Pirlo and Bastian Schweinsteiger, have also won international football’s biggest trophy, but none of them in the league when they did it. was not.
Argentina’s successful run at the World Cup had a rocky start, with a shock defeat to Saudi Arabia in the opening game. Some have called it the biggest upset in the tournament so far.
For Almada, the loss made finally winning the title that much sweeter.
“It was a shock for us to lose a game in which we controlled so much of the game and then they conceded two goals in five minutes. But I think it served us well,” Alameda said through a translator. “We were able to hold our heads up and stay on the path we wanted. And yes, it allowed us to just unite.
Almada, 21, earned his first call-up to the national team in September, but caught the eye of Lionel Messi, who praised him as both fresh and sharp.
“Very naughty,” Messi told reporters. “He’s not afraid of anything.”
In Qatar, Alameda made a late appearance after Argentina’s 2-0 victory over Poland in the group stage. He then said: “I’m the luckiest kid in the world.”
Now he’s back in the US, training with Atlanta in preparation for the MLS season, which starts on February 25.
“I think the best thing he can do is put his feet on the ground and that’s exactly what he’s shown since day one when he came with us in 2023. He’s in every meal, every training session. Sessions are on time,” coach Gonzalo Pineda said. “He’s doing everything that’s normal. He’s very humble and I love that. So I’d like to keep him with that little appetite.
Almada signed with Atlanta as a designated player in February 2022 for a reported transfer fee of $16 million, an MLS record. He had six goals and 12 assists in his first season with United, earning him the league’s Newcomer of the Year award.
While Alameda performed well individually, Atlanta went 10-14-10, 11th in the Eastern Conference standings and out of the playoffs for the second time in three years.
The team took steps to improve with the hiring of president Garth Legrove from the Seattle Sounders, but fans were disappointed with the recent acquisition of Joseph Martinez, who later signed with Inter Miami.
Almada is a key part of United’s attacking midfield alongside goalkeeper Brad Guzan and defensive midfielder Ozzie Alonso. Vice president Carlos Bocanegra said the team was actively looking for a striker this week.
“My goal is to have a great season as a group,” Almada said. “So we want to have a great preseason, then take it game by game, try to make the playoffs and hopefully the end of the season.” But will be able to finish it with the title.”
He said he believes it won’t be long before more World Cup winners play in the league. And sure enough, MLS will be lifted as a whole until the next World Cup, which the U.S. will host along with Canada and Mexico.
“A lot of MLS players have been to the World Cup. You have more and more young, talented players coming here,” he said. “So I think the gap between MLS and these big European leagues is less. It’s happening.”
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