Argentina’s dramatic third World Cup title was also a historic milestone for Major League Soccer.
With La Albiceleste’s heart-stopping 4-2 penalty-shootout win over France, after an epic 3-3 draw in Sunday’s final, Atlanta United midfielder Thiago Almada became the first active MLS player to win a FIFA World Cup. The league-record signing from Vélez Sarsfield, who earned 2022 MLS Newcomer of the Year honors thanks to a 6g/12a output with the Five Stripes, also joins an exclusive group of 13 league players, past and present, to claim soccer’s ultimate prize.
Almada was an unused substitute at Lusail Stadium in Qatar, where Argentina took the lead in the 23rd minute via a Lionel Messi penalty. The seven-time Ballon d’Or winner, increasingly linked to Inter Miami CF in recent weeks, was also decisive in a lethal counterattack finalized by Ángel Di María nine minutes before halftime.
The South Americans were in the driver's seat and had everything under control until Kylian Mbappé took matters into his own hands with just 10 minutes remaining.
The Paris Saint-Germain superstar pulled one back from the penalty spot in the 80th minute and a mere 93 seconds later forced the game into extra time with a stunning first-time finish off a chipped pass from Marcus Thuram.
Argentina retook the lead and believed Messi's 108th-minute goal finally put them over the hump, but Mbappé once again said "not so fast," bagging a hat trick and sending the game to PKs with his second score from the spot in the 118th minute.
But, as he did in the quarterfinals against the Netherlands, Albiceleste goalkeeper Emiliano Martínez once again came up huge during the decisive shootout, blocking Kingsley Coman's effort while Aurélien Tchouaméni then dragged his shot wide. Argentina went four-for-four, with Gonzalo Montiel scoring the title-clinching penalty.
Almada joined in the wild celebrations with his teammates as Argentina added a third star to their badge (after winning titles in 1978 and 1986) and planted their flag at the peak of soccer's mountaintop 36 years after their last World Cup heroics.
But the man of the hour was Messi. After finally securing the last major trophy that had eluded him throughout his legendary career, the PSG megastar will now decide his club future with free agency looming at the conclusion of the current 2022-23 season in Europe.
Perhaps a move to MLS awaits?