Atlanta United's 21-year-old midfielder delivered another massive performance during their 5-1 rout of Portland, becoming just the second player in club history to score two goals – the first a jaw-dropping free kick and an AT&T 5G MLS Goal of the Year candidate – and provide two assists in a single match. The early Landon Donovan MLS MVP candidate is driving the Five Stripes' unbeaten start (3W-0L-1D).
Considering his form and his inclusion on Argentina's 2022 FIFA World Cup-winning roster for the March international window, it's becoming increasingly realistic that Almada could challenge the outgoing transfer record set by a previous No. 10 for Atlanta: Miguel Almiron ($27 million in 2019), who's now with English Premier League side Newcastle United. The Designated Player was acquired for a reported league-record $16 million from Argentine side Velez Sarsfield last winter.
"For Thiago, you're going to have to break the bank. For one, he's a quality guy week in and week out," winger Derrick Etienne Jr. said postgame at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. "He's putting himself in great spots, he's doing very well, and you can just see the quality he brings every single day."
Almada's night began with an assist on Caleb Wiley's opener in the 25th minute. But he took it on himself to double the lead with a free-kick stunner deep into first-half stoppage time, easily topping his sensational free-kick winner against the San Jose Earthquakes on Matchday 1 – a game that earned him Player of the Matchday presented by Continental Tire honors.
"I think we are all witnessing a talented young player start to blossom. With that being said, he is young, and it's not always easy to keep up this sort of form, but we know he's got the talent," veteran goalkeeper Brad Guzan said. "If he keeps up the rate he's going now, he's going surpass [Almiron's record] easily."
It's been a whirlwind last several months for Almada, becoming the first-ever active MLS player to win a World Cup title. Though he played just six group-stage minutes, the last-second addition for Lionel Scaloni's Qatar-bound side was there at the end, celebrating with legend Lionel Messi after their dramatic final against defending champion France.
Fast-forward to Saturday and Almada is now playing at levels far beyond those when he earned 2022 MLS Newcomer of the Year honors – meaning transfer interest is bound to follow suit.
Head coach Gonzalo Pineda expressed hope that Almada would eventually surpass Almiron's record pricetag, but mentioned a "game-by-game" approach, especially with Almada leaving on international duty for a pair of friendlies against Panama (March 23) and Curaçao (March 28).
"I hope Thiago continues with this good run," Pineda said. "Now with the national team, hopefully he gets minutes, he gets that confidence again, and when he's back ... he's proving that week-by-week, and then I hope, yes, we can do good in there."
Pineda raved about Almada's work ethic and maturity, noting his World Cup inclusion hasn't served as a "distraction" given his age and the fact he's shared the locker room with top-end La Albiceleste players.
"He's been here on time for everything. He gets out of the building very late," Pineda said. "I see all those little details that tell me Thiago still has a [high] ceiling ahead of him."