Breaking news: Atlanta United signs up-and-coming South American player, who hopes to one day play in Europe.
No, it’s not Hector Villalba.
No, it’s not Miguel Almiron.
No, it’s not Jose Hernandez, Pity Martinez, Ezequiel Barco, Erik Lopez, Marcelino Moreno, Santiago Sosa or Franco Ibarra.
This time, it’s Thiago Almada, whose acquisition was announced by the MLS club on Wednesday.
Will Almada become the next Almiron, who pushed Atlanta United to an MLS Cup in 2018, or the next Barco, who showed flashes of his immense talent but never consistency?
It’s just started here.
Lopez, Sosa and Ibarra are still with the club, having played only one season each. There is still lots of time. Moreno also is still with the club but is unlikely to be of interest to a club in Europe.
Such is the crapshoot that is signing and developing players that only one of those previous players, Almiron, actually was developed and sold to a club in Europe.
Just two, Almiron and Martinez, who surprisingly was transferred to a club in Saudi Arabia, were sold for a profit.
And then there is Barco, who was purchased for almost $14 million as an 18-year-old before the 2018 season and then loaned last month to River Plate in Argentina with a reported option to buy for $8 million.
Like Barco, who also was considered a bright talent in South America when he was with Independiente, Almada has a lot of talent. He scored 24 goals with 11 assists in 100 appearances for Velez Sarsfield in Argentina. He was scouted by giants Manchester United and Manchester City.
Perhaps clubs bigger than Atlanta United were scared away by the yearlong investigation, since archived by prosecutors in Argentina, into allegations of sexual misconduct by others at a party attended by Almada in December 2020.
Perhaps the market is depressed by COVID-19.
Or, perhaps, those clubs didn’t value Almada as much as Atlanta United, which has shown the courage to gamble with owner Arthur Blank’s money if there is the possibility of improving the club and possibly its bottom line.
The club is taking steps to try to help not only Almada, but all of its young players navigate life as a professional athlete in a new country, a new league and with a new team.
Vice President Carlos Bocanegra said the club offers money and time-management classes, lessons in social media, and hope to use the Argentina Consulate to help players feel more at home, more comfortable. The belief is that a more comfortable player is a more productive player, which is good for the team. And a more productive player is a more valuable player, which becomes good when it’s time to sell.
Bocanegra said he has had conversations with Almada about a path to Europe, which Almada has said many times in interviews posted on social media sites is his goal. Bocanegra said it starts with playing well for Atlanta United. Do that, and there may be a path. Almiron is an example. Don’t play well, and it becomes more difficult. Barco is an example.
Will Almada become the next Almiron or Barco?
Only time will tell.
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Atlanta United’s 2022 MLS schedule
Feb. 27 vs. Sporting KC, 3 p.m., FS1
March 5 at Colorado, 6 p.m., BSSO/BSSE
March 13 vs. Charlotte, 4:30 p.m., FS1
March 19 vs. Montreal, 4 p.m., BSSO/BSSE
April 2 at D.C. United, 7:30 p.m., BSSO/BSSE
April 9 at Charlotte, 3 p.m., ESPN
April 16 vs. Cincinnati, 6 p.m., BSSO/BSSE
April 24 at Miami, 1 p.m., ESPN
April 30 at Montreal, 4 p.m., BSSO/BSSE
May 7 vs. Chicago, 6 p.m., BSSO/BSSE
May 15 vs. New England, 2 p.m., ESPN
May 21 at Nashville, 7:30 p.m. FOX
May 28 vs. Columbus Crew, 7 p.m., BSSO/BSSE
June 19 vs Miami, 4 p.m., ESPN2
June 25 at Toronto, 7:30 p.m., BSSO/BSSE
June 30 at New York Red Bulls, 8 p.m., BSSO/BSSE
July 3 at NYCFC, 5 p.m., BSSO/BSSE
July 9 vs. Austin, 7 p.m., BSSO/BSSE
July 13 vs. Real Salt Lake, 7:30 p.m., BSSO/BSSE
July 17 vs. Orlando, 3 p.m., ABC
July 24 at L.A. Galaxy, 9:30 p.m., FS1
July 30 at Chicago, 5 p.m., BSSO/BSSE
Aug. 6 vs. Seattle, 3 p.m., ABC
Aug. 13 at Cincinnati, 7:30 p.m. BSSO/BSSE
Aug. 17 vs. New York Red Bulls, 7:30 p.m., BSSO/BSSE
Aug. 21 at Columbus, 6 p.m., FS1
Aug. 28 vs. D.C. United, 4 p.m., UNIV
Aug. 31 at Philadelphia, 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 4 at Portland, 5:30 p.m., FOX
Sept. 10 vs. Toronto, 7:30 p.m., BSSO/BSSE
Sept. 14 at Orlando, 6 p.m., BSSO/BSSE
Sept. 17 vs. Philadelphia, 3:30 p.m., UniMas
Oct. 1 at New England, 1 p.m., UniMas
Oct. 9 vs. NYCFC, TBD, BSSO/BSSE