Thiago Almada’s first start for Atlanta United didn’t quite have the same fireworks as his debut, but the early signs are there that he can be a star for the club.
The Argentine youngster scored an incredible goal to spark a remarkable two-goal comeback against CF Montreal before the international break. It was the perfect way for Almada to introduce himself to his new supporters.
Fresh from a full fortnight of training as most of MLS took a break for international fixtures, Almada was thrown in from the start by Gonzalo Pineda in Saturday’s late 1-0 win away at DC United, giving us a chance to see how the playmaker will truly fit into Atlanta United‘s structure.
Almada was given something of a free run in the No.10 role, but spent most of his time out on the left where he could combine with Andrew Gutman and, more importantly, Marcelino Moreno.
Although the two Argentines only exchanged 13 passes on the night, it was the manner of their link-up that was so impressive. Each provided clever movement to open up space for the other, while Almada played a number of sharp, angled passes into Moreno to get his compatriot into dangerous positions in front of the DC United defense.
In the end, neither were able to quite carve open the DC defense nor bring Josef Martinez into the game enough. Not together, at least, with Moreno’s late winner coming from a Brooks Lennon corner. But it’s clear there has been work on the training pitch to get these three esteemed attackers understanding each other’s habits and movements.
It’s only a matter of time until it sparks some scintillating soccer, especially considering Atlanta United are still awaiting Luiz Araujo’s return to fitness.
While it was great to see the early signs of a partnership between Almada and Moreno, it was his individual play that caught the eye the most.
Every time Almada picked up the ball, his head was up looking for options. Pressure didn’t faze him, with the Argentine often gliding past DC United players into space. And most impressively, there was no area of the pitch safe from Almada, who dropped deep when he needed to see more of the ball but tried to stay high when Atlanta United needed him in the final third.
Almada created three chances on the night, the biggest late into the game when he danced through the DC United defense to set up Jackson Conway, who scuffed his effort in a great position.
Sure, Almada’s creative influence over Saturday’s game waned a little in the second half, his pass to Conway aside. But that’s to be expected from a young player who is still getting used to a new team and a new country. With the quality at Almada’s disposal – precision passing, dazzling dribbling, and 360 vision – it’s only a matter of time until he produces complete performances across 90 minutes.
Regardless of stature and star status, every single player needs to fit into the wider team structure. You’re only as strong as your weakest link. Any worries that Almada wouldn’t pull a shift defensively or that he felt above running the hard yards were quickly brushed aside on Saturday.
The 20-year-old ended the night with eight recoveries, three tackles, one interception, and one aerial duel won. Strong numbers, but even more impressive was that Almada carried out eight of those defensive actions in his own half. He even drew a yellow card sprinting back to try and stop Griffin Yow late in the match!
As Atlanta United’s No.10, Almada would perhaps be the easiest to forgive for not tracking back or helping his team defend – Josef Martinez aside. But time and again, the former Velez man could be seen sprinting back to keep the Five Stripes’ shape intact and help his teammates.
Was this a complete 10/10 performance from Thiago Almada? No. But it was very much one of promise. Major League Soccer’s most expensive player showed flashes of his true quality, creating openings, always looking to take the ball no matter how small the spaces, and going above and beyond to help his team keep a clean sheet.
Atlanta United have a star that’s only going to burn brighter from here.