Miguel Almiron has emerged as a star in just his first MLS season with Atlanta United. He was part of the 2017 MLS All-Star Game Fan XI, has been honored twice as the MLS Player of the Week, and has been named to the MLS Team of the Week seven times. He’s scored a career-high nine goals, and he’s also chalked up a team-leading 13 assists, tied for fourth most in MLS.
All of this helped him earn the No. 1 spot on MLSsoccer.com's annual 24 Under 24 list on Thursday. Unfortunately the attacking midfielder will miss a minimum of three weeks after sustaining a left hamstring injury on Sept. 24.
Almiron’s also quickly become a fan favorite in Atlanta, as much for his ever-present smile and humility off the pitch as the quality of his play. A giant likeness of “Miggy,” as many supporters now call him, can be spotted in the supporters section during most home matches.
Almiron spoke to MLSsoccer.com through a translator to shed more light on his life and career, from his early years growing up in Paraguay, to his time playing in Atlanta for one the most successful expansion franchises in MLS history.
Here are ten things you may not know about Miguel Almiron.
Favorite player of all-time is…a goalkeeper?
When asked which player he most admired growing up, Almiron was quick to respond: “In Paraguay, we had a few different idols, but I always liked Chilavert.”
José Luis Chilavert, the Paraguayan keeper who was a mainstay for the national team during 1990’s, might seem like an odd choice for a No. 10 like Almirón.
However, Chilavert wasn’t your average 'keeper. Not only one of the most talented keepers of his generation—he was named South American Footballer of the Year in 1996— he was also one of the flashier netminders ever. Chilavert often took free kicks and penalties, and eventually became the second-highest scoring 'keeper of all time.
Warm World Cup memories
When Almiron was a teenager, Paraguay advanced to the quarters of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, the furthest the country’s ever advanced in the tournament. Under the direction of manager Tata Martino, Paraguay defeated Japan on penalties in the Round of 16, only to lose to Spain 1-0 in the quarterfinals on a David Villa goal.
“It was a wonderful moment for me, and also for all of Paraguay,” said Almiron. “I remember watching the game against Spain with my dad, and we had a really good team, and a great coach too.”
Today, Almiron is living out his boyhood dreams as a fixture for his national team, with six combined appearances as part of 2018 FIFA World Cup Qualifying and the 2016 Copa America Centenario.
“They’re really difficult games,” Almiron says of playing in CONMEBOL. “I think people take those games a different way, there’s just a different dynamic, and people in South America take them seriously. But they’re always complicated, tough games [and]it’s an honor to play for Paraguay and represent the country.”
Playing for his hometown team
At just 14, Almiron began his professional career playing for the club he grew up supporting in his hometown of Asuncion, Paraguay’s capital city.
“I’m a fan of Cerro Porteño, and I played there as well, and we won a championship, so that’s my favorite team,” he said.
Almiron appeared 39 times over three years for the club before moving to Lanus in the Argentine Primera Division.
Game recognizes game
Almiron is a dangerous, slight-of-frame No. 10 with a world-class left foot and the ability to blow by defenders when he has the ball at his feet. Remind you of anyone?
“Messi,” says Almiron when asked to name his favorite player. But Miggy’s admiration for the Barcelona legend goes beyond Lionel Messi’s once-in-a-lifetime talent.
“[Messi] seems like an excellent person,” says Almiron. “I’ve never met him personally but on the field, I think he shows that, and I think that’s why so many people like him.”
The perfect recruiter
When Atlanta United’s leadership reached out to Almiron about joining the club, they had a secret weapon: Tata Martino. (It’s hard to say “no” to the manager who had led your national team to its best-ever World Cup finish.)
“When Tata called me, and told me about the proposal and the things they were doing here, I didn’t hesitate to say yes to him,” says Almirón. “Because he’s an idol in Paraguay, for my family too, and it’s a great honor to have him as a coach.”
Talking MLS with other South American players
Martino wasn’t the only person Almiron spoke to before making his decision. He also conferred with several South American players who had made the move to MLS during their careers. He talked to Guillermo Barros Schelotto, his Lanus manager at the time who had played for Columbus Crew SC, as well as Nelson Valdez, a Paraguayan who’d recently played two seasons with the Seattle Sounders, and Agustín Pelletieri, an Argentianian defensive midfielder who’d spent one year with Chivas USA.
And now that he’s part of the league, Almiron’s now the one fielding questions about MLS from fellow South Americans.
“I think those players are realizing that the league is growing and it’s getting better every year,” he says. “Whenever players ask me, I tell them I’m doing really well, things are going really well. I think that now you’re seeing younger players come from South America to join some of the other experienced players we have in the league, and I think that’s really important. Because it makes the league more competitive.”
Learning to love the ATL
Almiron admits he didn’t know much about Atlanta before moving here. But once Martino started telling him about the team’s plans for their world-class training center and stadium facilities, he was convinced the move was the right choice. Plus, Atlanta has started to grow on him.
“Since I’ve been here, I’ve had the opportunity to get to know the city and go out a little bit,” he says. “I think it’s a wonderful city; it’s a calm city. I feel relaxed here, and I’m enjoying it.”
A taste of home
Although Almiron misses his friends and family in Paraguay, his parents and sister were able to visit him a few months ago. And he’s always able to remind himself of home by enjoying a Paraguayan drink called tereré. It’s similar to the mate his Argentinian teammates enjoy, but unlike mate, tereré is served cold.
“You put it in a thermos with ice.,” says Almirón “It’s something popular in Paraguay, it’s part of the culture.”
Close to Josef, on and off the field
Miggy’s teammates all seem to have nice things to say about the soft-spoken Almiron. The feeling is mutual, and Almiron says he gets along with everyone on the team, although he admits he interacts more with his Spanish-speaking teammates. He says he hangs out the most often with Josef Martinez.
“I get along really well with Josef, so sometimes him and I will go out for lunch or I’ll invite him over to my house to play PlayStation,” he says.
It helps that the two also had an instant rapport on the field.
“Everyone knows about Josef’s quality as a player, his technique, his goal scoring ability,” says Almiron. “It makes it easier playing with him and I think he’s the best No. 9 in the league.”
Proving himself as a goalscorer
Given the fact Almiron has scored nine goals this season and has won AT&T MLS Goal of the Week honors three times, it’s surprising to learn Almiron only scored four times in 43 matches for Lanus, and he set his previous career-high for goals in 2015 with five for Cerro Porteño.
Martino and his coaching staff have had to push Almirón to take more shots, and he’s clearly been heeding the advice.
“I’ve never been a goal scorer, really, in my career,” says Almiron. “That’s something I’m trying to do now, to arrive more in the area, and to try and score more goals.”