The 22-year-old was at the peak of his powers in the Five Stripes’ 4-0 dismantling of Nashville SC, scoring a trademark golazo, adding two assists and participating directly in the final tally at Mercedes-Benz Stadium – courtesy of new Designated Player Saba Lobjanidze.
While compatriot and fellow playmaker Lionel Messi dazzled in his MLS regular-season debut at Red Bull Arena, Almada’s equally masterful performance came amid growing rumors of a possible transfer abroad. Just this week, Eredivisie powerhouse AFC Ajax were linked to the Atlanta superstar, who also reportedly informed the club of his desire to leave during the winter 2023-24 transfer window.
“The only thing I said was that if a good offer came and it was the best for me, I’d think it over with my family and make the best decision,” Almada clarified to the media after his man-of-the-match performance.
“But I’m doing things well here, I’m in a big club and I’m trying to give the best of myself.”
Almada certainly did that Saturday night and then some. The Vélez Sarsfield academy product got things going in the 26th minute by lifting a brilliant service into the box that summer signing Xande Silva volleyed home to open the score. Silva returned the favor just after the halftime break, allowing Almada to deftly chip goalkeeper Joe Willis.
The 2022 FIFA World Cup champion with Argentina then delivered a corner kick Miles Robinson headed into the back of the net, before capping his memorable night with a brilliant solo run that allowed Lobjanidze to round off the scoring with a classy backheel goal.
Almada reached 9g/13a on the season, guiding Atlanta to their second straight win after the Leagues Cup break. They jumped to sixth place in the Eastern Conference and threaten to fight for home-field advantage in the Audi 2023 MLS Cup Playoffs with eight games remaining.
“We’re very proud of what he’s doing, especially because he’s very humble,” head coach Gonzalo Pineda said of Almada, who’s among the top candidates for Landon Donovan MLS MVP consideration.
“… He’s trying to have that push for MVP, of course, but the most important thing for him and for us in the team is to continue winning.”
For Almada, who last year earned MLS Newcomer of the Year honors behind a 6g/12a debut campaign (following a reported league-record $16 million move), there are bigger priorities than personal accolades.
“No, I don’t think about that,” he responded dismissively regarding the MVP chatter. “I try to do my best on the field, try to feel comfortable with my teammates, and I think that here the group is more important than the individual."
In other words, Almada would rather win MLS Cup than MLS MVP.
“We want to try to win a title with this group,” he declared.