Thiago Almada gets World Cup hero's return at Velez Sarsfield

Thiago Almada Anthem ARG

Thiago Almada proved the ultimate local-boy-made-good this week after receiving a hero's welcome back to childhood club Vélez Sarsfield, fresh off his FIFA World Cup victory with Argentina.

The Atlanta United playmaker got the red-carpet treatment Wednesday at the famed Villa Olímpica training ground, his home from when he joined the club's academy as a 5-year-old to when he signed with the Five Stripes for an MLS-record transfer fee (reported $16 million) in February.

Vélez Sarsfield president Sergio Rapisarda led the tributes for Almada, presenting the 21-year-old with an ID card certifying him as an "honorary member" of the club.

After reuniting with his former teammates, Almada spoke about his surreal experience as a last-minute injury replacement for the Albiceleste, a call-up that saw him earn six minutes of action in the tournament and become the first active MLS player to win a World Cup after an epic victory over France in a final for the ages.

"My first dream was to debut as a professional, my second was to buy my parents a house and my third was to play in a World Cup. And we capped it off by winning it," the Atlanta Designated Player said.

"I'm happy to be here and I'm happy for this recognition."

It's been one recognition after the other for Almada this year. In addition to his career-defining trip to Qatar, he also earned 2022 MLS Newcomer of the Year honors thanks to a standout debut season that included 18 goal contributions (6g/12a).

While his current contract runs through 2025, there has been increasing speculation about a possible move to Europe. For now, the World Cup champion is set to enter his second MLS season as the centerpiece of a Five Stripes side intent on regaining elite status in the league after missing out on the Audi 2022 MLS Cup Playoffs.

After bringing on famed general manager Garth Lagerwey last month, the rebuild wheels are already set in motion in Atlanta.