Thiago Almada

Anybody who was surprised by Thiago Almada's late inclusion in Argentina's World Cup squad likely wasn't paying attention to Atlanta United's playmaker during the 2022 Major League Soccer season.

That's according to none other than Albiceleste head coach Luis Scaloni.

In his first press conference since calling up the 21-year-old midfielder as one of two injury replacements, the manager pushed back on the notion that Almada should consider himself lucky to be in Qatar with the likes of Lionel Messi (Paris Saint-Germain), Ángel Di María (Juventus), Julián Álvarez (Manchester City) and other high-profile teammates.

"Does Almada's call-up surprise me? It doesn't surprise me because he's a player who has the level to be here. And hopefully the football world can enjoy him on the national team," Scaloni replied when asked about the MLS-record signing (reported $16 million) from Vélez Sarsfield.

In fact, the Argentina boss is betting on Atlanta's No. 8 becoming a national team fixture for years to come.

"He's a kid with ... an enormous future ahead of him," Scaloni added. "And we don't just work thinking about right now, we work with the future in mind."

Almada posted a 6g/12a haul in his debut season with the Five Stripes, earning his first senior cap in the process: a 3-0 international friendly victory over Honduras. He shared the field with Messi that September evening and quickly won over the seven-time Ballon D'Or winner.

"He’s very fast and he has a lot of 1-v-1 ability. He’s very clever and he’s not afraid of anything. He goes at you," Messi said after the game.

Argentina make their Group C debut against Saudi Arabia on Nov. 22 before closing out the group stage against Mexico (Nov. 26) and Poland (Nov. 30).