Almada powers Argentina, Gómez leads Paraguay to 2024 Olympics


South America's two tickets for the 2024 Summer Olympics are punched – thanks, in large part, to MLS players enjoying key roles.

Atlanta United midfielder Thiago Almada (Argentina) and Inter Miami CF midfielder Diego Gómez (Paraguay) recently captained their respective nations to glory at the 2024 Conmebol Pre-Olympic Tournament. They also finished as the competition's joint top goalscorer (five goals apiece).

With these stars Paris-bound, let's spotlight their impact and additional MLS standouts from the tournament that was contested from Jan. 20 to Feb. 11 in Venezuela. At the upcoming Olympics, men's soccer will be held from July 24 to Aug. 10.

Almada was handed the captain's armband by head coach Javier Mascherano and tallied 5g/2a in seven matches for his home country. That included two "final stage" strikes after they topped Group B.

A 2022 World Cup champion, Almada is now hoping Argentina capture their third-ever Olympic gold medal following titles at Athens 2004 and Beijing 2008. Inter Miami forward Lionel Messi starred for La Albicelestes during the latter games.

Almada's influence will only further fuel transfer speculation, though the 22-year-old is seemingly staying with Atlanta through the summer. Maybe that changes before/after Paris, challenging the league-record outbound fee (reported $27 million) Atlanta received when Miguel Almirón moved to Newcastle United (Premier League) in January 2019. Almada, now preparing for his third MLS season, initially joined Atlanta in February 2022 from Vélez Sarsfield for a reported league-record $16 million fee.

One other Argentina note: Pedro de la Vega, Seattle Sounders FC's new star, is also age-eligible. The reported $7.5 million signing from Lanús previously represented his country at the Tokyo 2020 games.

Gómez proved sensational, finishing with 5g/2a in seven games as Paraguay won the tournament and earned their third-ever Olympics berth. Previously, they made a quarterfinal run at the Barcelona 1992 games and earned silver (runner-up) at the Athens 2004 games.

Most impressively, Gómez scored two goals in Paraguay's last two "final stage" games – including a penalty-kick opener in Sunday's decisive 2-0 victory over Venezuela. That all followed a second-place finish in Group B.

The 20-year-old midfielder's leadership should come as no surprise, as he's already earned seven senior-team caps and is a regular in World Cup qualifying. Plus, it creates momentum for his first full season at Inter Miami after joining last summer from Paraguayan side Club Libertad for a reported near-$3 million fee.

Last year with Inter Miami, Gómez scored once in 12 games and helped capture the Leagues Cup title.

Other MLS standouts

Brazil: Gabriel Pec, the LA Galaxy's new DP winger, had 0g/2a in seven matches as Brazil finished third. Meanwhile, D.C. United midfielder Gabriel Pirani had 1g/0a over the same span.

Venezuela: LAFC signing David Martínez starred for his home country, tallying 0g/4a in seven matches as they finished in fourth place. The 18-year-old's vision was especially impressive:

Ecuador: Pedro Vite and Ecuador didn't advance from Group A, but the Vancouver Whitecaps FC midfielder still shined bright with 0g/4a in four matches.

Uruguay: Orlando City SC midfielder César Araújo captained Uruguay, but they fell short in Group B. He scored against Argentina.

Colombia: Portland Timbers right back Juan Mosquera captained Colombia as they finished bottom of Group A.