While his demeanor may seem nonchalant, the $16 million league-record signing's play on the field was anything but. Almada's game-winner coincides with Atlanta's first winning streak of the season.
Six points from back-to-back victories over Toronto FC and Orlando have kept the Five Stripes alive in an inordinately tight Eastern Conference playoff race. They've now climbed into ninth place, two points off seventh-place Columbus Crew with one more game played.
"It's perfect timing," noted head coach Gonzalo Pineda. "It's the second win in a row and puts us in good position for a playoff spot. We need to continue. Nothing is done yet, but the spirit and the passion of the players I see on the field is very good."
Perhaps no one has embodied that spirit and passion like Josef Martínez. After a 2-1 loss at the Portland Timbers, Pineda and Martínez clashed in what the manager termed the latest in "multiple cases" of "bad behavior". As a result, the club's all-time leading scorer was handed a high-profile suspension, which he served in last weekend's 4-2 win over Toronto.
Against Orlando, Martínez came off the bench, taking the captain's armband as has become custom "out of respect for his [status in the team]", according to Pineda. With a winning streak finally under their belts, Martínez back in the fold, and the playoffs still within reach, the mood is improving in Georgia.
"We’re growing in confidence. It’s something that we’re building right now and we have to keep going, but we also have to be humble," said fullback Ronald Hernández. "We’ve got to do our job first and then we’ll see what the other results are."
Three games remain in Atlanta's up-and-down 2022 campaign, starting with Saturday's daunting visit (3:30 pm ET | MLS LIVE on ESPN+) from Supporters' Shield-leading Philadelphia Union. The sides met two weeks ago, with Philly taking a 4-1 win at Subaru Park.
The MLS Cup 2018 winners are still in real danger of missing the playoffs for the second time in as many years.
"I think the team is playing better and understanding each other better," said Almada, who's now on 6g/11a since arriving last offseason from Velez Sarsfield in Argentina. "These two wins give us confidence.”
WATCH: Thiago Almada drives Atlanta United past Orlando City