Messi, Almada & Velasco: Argentina call MLS trio for World Cup qualifiers


Defending FIFA World Cup champions Argentina have called up a record three MLS players – Lionel Messi (Inter Miami CF), Thiago Almada (Atlanta United) and Alan Velasco (FC Dallas) – for the September 2023 international window.

Messi and Almada were part of the squad that helped earn La Albiceleste’s third World Cup crown at Qatar 2022, while Velasco is a surprise inclusion by head coach Lionel Scaloni as Argentina begin their 2026 World Cup qualifying campaign with Conmebol tests against Ecuador and Bolivia.

Argentina: World Cup qualifiers

  • Sept. 7 vs. Ecuador (8 pm ET) | Estadio Monumental - Buenos Aires, Argentina
  • Sept. 12 at Bolivia (4 pm ET) | Estadio Hernando Siles - La Paz, Bolivia

Argentina’s undisputed leader, the seven-time Ballon d’Or will participate in his sixth World Cup qualifying cycle after reaching the pinnacle of the sport last year in Qatar. The 36-year-old has achieved his greatest international success recently, lifting the World Cup trophy in 2022 a year after clinching his first major title with La Albiceleste: the 2021 Copa América.

Messi is also thriving at the club level, enjoying a dream start to life at Inter Miami following a blockbuster summer arrival – along with fellow FC Barcelona legends Sergio Busquets and Jordi Alba – that has captivated Major League Soccer. La Pulga has 11 goals and six assists in 10 appearances (eight starts) across all competitions, guiding the Herons to a Leagues Cup 2023 title and US Open Cup Final berth as they look to force their way into the Audi 2023 MLS Cup Playoff picture during the final stretch of the regular season.

Another member of Argentina’s 2022 World Cup-winning squad, Almada has built off his MLS Newcomer of the Year award from last season to become one of the league’s premier stars. The 22-year-old has 9g/13a in 2023 with Atlanta United, who have reportedly received numerous offers from European clubs for the Vélez Sarsfield product – most recently, Eredivisie powerhouse AFC Ajax.

Should Almada stay with the Five Stripes through the end of the season, he’ll likely remain the key figure for an Atlanta side that’s looking to make a playoff return (and possible MLS Cup run) after missing out on the 2022 postseason. A Landon Donovan MLS MVP award could also be in Almada’s immediate future before all is said and done.

One of the biggest surprises on Scaloni’s list, Velasco earns his first senior call-up after previously representing Argentina at the Under-17 level. The FC Dallas attacking midfielder – a club-record signing from Independiente in 2022 – has 2g/3a this season, numbers that belie his potential as a true creative, playmaking talent.

That potential was on full display during a Leagues Cup Round-of-16 clash against Inter Miami, with Velasco putting in a scene-stealing, 1g/1g performance that received widespread acclaim. In fact, none other than Messi sought out the 21-year-old after the final whistle at Toyota Stadium to exchange jerseys with Velasco. Now, they’re teammates with Argentina.