Many questions were asked of this Argentine talent when it was first announced that he’d make a move to Atlanta late last season, but it seems pretty safe to say that Thiago Almada has consolidated himself as one of the top players in the league even after a troublesome season for the Five Stripes. Despite not being able to start the season with the team due to some visa issues, he stepped on the pitch and made an instant impact. Almada was a consistent attacking threat and proved that he was the best option as the creative playmaker in midfield.
Minutes: 2372 (29 games)
What went right?
Almada was brought in to play at the number 10 position as the squad’s main creative attacking midfielder and he’s served that function very well. He has the skill and confidence to take on defenders and try to create space for himself while also being able to pick up his head and look for a pass. Although he wasn’t producing a ton in goals, his participation in plays that led to goals was key to Atlanta’s attack this season. The stats reflect that too - Almada finished the season with 6 xG (66th in the league) and 7.6 xA (11th best in the league). Toward the beginning of the season, he was deployed as a winger in favor of having Marcelino Moreno as the CAM. This may have hampered Almada’s numbers as he was in a more isolated position with fewer options to distribute the ball or take shots.
Either way, I have to end this segment by saying that a lot has gone right for Almada this season. From being named 2022 MLS Newcomer of the Year to receiving callups to Argentina’s National Team (and still could be in the World Cup roster) to already drawing attention from Europe. Thiago Almada got a lot of things right this season and there’s every reason to believe it will continue next year.
What to improve on?
In terms of his actual play, it’s very hard to find something to critique Almada on. What I will say, though, is that the team could really benefit from him being more vocal on the pitch. Many players in the past that have played in his position have been charged with the captain’s armband for a reason: they’re the stars of the team, so it only makes sense for them to lead the team on the field. Look at Messi, Maradona, Modrić, Iniesta or Zidane. These are/were players that could get the team going by directing players to push up, drop back, make runs, get wide, etc. They could help the team keep a winning result or give them that slap on the ass to rally and get back into the game.
Anyone that has talked to him (or at least tried to) in the locker room after a game can tell you that he’s a rather quiet and timid person, so it’s understandable that it could be a bit of a personality clash. However, if he could pick up the confidence to be the difference not just with his play, but with leadership, the team could see a vast improvement all around.
What role will he play in 2023
I expect Almada to continue playing in that CAM role that he’s developed nicely into, potentially even pushing up higher to play behind the striker as almost a center forward as he’s most dangerous when he receives the ball up the field and just needs to dribble up to the goal and take shots. Considering there’s likely some rebuilding in order, we could see Atlanta try to build a team around him to further develop his best qualities.
Since he has been catching some European interest, it’s entirely possible that he could be sold either in the winter or over the summer (more likely in my opinion), so Atlanta need to really squeeze out the best of him while they still can.
Overall Player Grade: A
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