When Dragon Ball Z is thrown up, it seems that Atlanta United’s opponents are going down.
When Miguel Almiron scores – as he did twice in Saturday’s 4-0 win against Orlando City in front of a crowd of more than 70,000 – he and Josef Martinez typically celebrate by re-creating the fusion pose done by characters in the cartoon Dragon Ball Z. It’s a show that Almiron watched when he was younger growing up in Paraguay. Martinez said he doesn’t watch TV, so he doesn’t’ know what it is. He does it because Almiron wants too.
“I just like the show,” Almiron said.
The choice to celebrate scoring goals with an homage to a cartoon reinforces the reputation Almiron has of the smiling, lovable assassin. Almiron has had eight chances for such a celebration this season. He continued to show on Saturday why he is among the best players in MLS.
His first goal was a counter-attack that started with a turnover from an Orlando City corner kick. After Almiron beat Orlando City’s Joe Bendik, he and Martinez stood side by side, each leaning toward the other, and touched fingers on their right and left hands to make a circle.
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There you go, Dragon Ball Z.
His second goal came after Mikey Ambrose created a turnover. He passed to Almiron, who fought off Jonathan Spector and beat Bendik to the near post. This time, Almiron ran to teammates warming up in the corner to celebrate.
The scores were Almiron’s first goals since April 28. It was his sixth multi-goal game of his career and third this season. He has eight goals and seven assists and Atlanta United leads MLS with 37 points. Almiron, with speed and a willingness to work as hard on defense as on offense, is again among the front-runners as the league’s MVP.
“You asked me earlier this week how he looked,” Atlanta United manager Gerardo Martino said. “I said that he looked pretty good. I think he looked pretty good tonight. There is not much more to add.”
While his goals were impressive, Almiron made a play in the first half that was more impressive because it illustrates his willingness to follow Martino’s coaching.
After a turnover by Hector Villalba, Orlando City started a counter-attack near midfield. The Lions had a numbers advantage on Atlanta United’s back-pedaling defenders. As Orlando City neared the top of the penalty box, a pass was played from the left to the middle.
Almiron intercepted it after he sprinted more than 50 yards to get back and help the defense.
“That’s what coach asks of us,” Almiron said. “He asks every player to do everything he can for the team. I just want to do whatever I can to help us.”
Still, there are lots of examples in leagues around the world of attacking players who don’t have much interest in playing defense.
“Miguel has a commitment to the team, I’m talking about his commitment to winning the ball back, pressing, he’s a player that’s always working,” Martino said. “He’s an atypical number 10. Because he gives you everything that a number 10 gives you and he probably dispossesses players like a defensive midfielder. So as a player who always works hard, he’s never absent in a game, even a game where your team isn’t dominating the offensive facet of the game.
“It’s very rare to find a game where he’s not… I’m going to refer to the game against Columbus. He worked like he does every game but he didn’t have as much participation offensively. The one time he did he plays in Tito for the goal to make it 2-0. I can’t find a game where his work rate isn’t showcased. Other players may play better than him, but for a coach to find a player who plays that position and that level of commitment, it’s very valuable.”
It's a play that Almiron made many times the past two seasons. It’s not often highlighted because Almiron is known more for his speed and his left foot, but his effort is among the reasons he is constantly linked with teams in Europe.
“His teammates don’t overlook that commitment that we were talking about,” Martino said. “This is a league where the biggest figures, from both the public’s recognition and economically, make a big difference compared to the rest. That doesn’t always coincide with the effort. With Miguel, if there’s anything guaranteed it’s the effort. So the rest of the team should say, ‘If he has that commitment, how are we not going to have it ourselves?’ It’s a great image for the team that he does what he does.”