Atlanta United’s Thiago Almada returns home a World Cup winner



Thiago Almada grinned self-deprecatingly Friday and said, “Thank you very much” when asked if he should be referred to as Thiago Almada, World Cup winner from now.

Almada, who was on the Argentina team that defeated France to win the World Cup in Qatar, was the first player to be interviewed at Atlanta United’s first media availability ahead of the pending MLS season.

He said he partied for three, four days after the win, accomplished in a penalty shootout. He said he always will remember Gonzalo Montiel’s winning penalty kick, and the save made by Emi Martinez near the end of the game.

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Now, Almada’s focus is on his second season with Atlanta United and helping it make the playoffs.

“I think I’m coming into the year just like I did last year with a lot of excitement, a lot of enthusiasm to give my best to the team,” he said. “Of course the World Cup carries a lot of weight, but I’m here with the same excitement as always.”

Almada was one of few bright spots on last season’s team. The attacking midfielder scored six goals with 12 assists. He played well enough to earn a call-up to Argentina’s national team in September and made a good-enough impression that manager Lionel Scaloni called him to the World Cup team when one of the players sustained an injury.

Almada said the invitation to join the team came from a call from Scaloni, who asked Almada if he wanted to travel.

“It was very exciting, and I started to cry because to represent Argentina at the World Cup is the maximum for any player,” Almada said.

Almada came on in the 86th minute of a 2-0 victory against Poland in the group stage. He later became the first active MLS player to win a World Cup.

Almada said he learned things at the World Cup that he can apply to his career, but didn’t want to reveal them. He said it was nice that some Atlanta United supporters welcomed him at the airport when he arrived in the city. He said his teammates also applauded him, which he described as a nice moment.

On the field, though the team has practiced together only a few times, goalkeeper Brad Guzan said he can tell there’s a certain “buzz” about Almada. Guzan said he expects Almada will be even better in his second season with the club than he was last season because now he is used to the country, the league, the franchise, his manager and teammates.

“It’s exciting to see,” Guzan said.

Manager Gonzalo Pineda said something he appreciates about Almada is how grounded he has remained despite being on a World Cup-winning team and getting to play alongside some of the world’s best players, starting with Lionel Messi.

“That’s exactly what he has shown since the very first day he’s been here in 2023 with us,” Pineda said. “Being on time in every meal, in every training session, he’s been doing everything as normal. He’s very humble. And I like that. And so I would like to keep him with that little hunger in him.”

Most of the questions to Almada on a chilly Friday were understandably about his World Cup experience. The most emotion Almada showed during the interview was when he was asked what it was like to hold the trophy. His Instagram handle is a photo of him hugging the trophy to his chin with his left arm while holding his cellphone in his right hand on an airplane. There is also a photo of him and Messi, who is holding the trophy, on an airplane.

“To have the World Cup trophy in your hands, it’s the best feeling there is for a player,” he said. “It’s every player’s dream.”

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Atlanta United’s 2023 MLS schedule

Feb. 25 vs. San Jose Earthquakes, 7:30 p.m.

March 4 vs. Toronto FC, 7:30 p.m.

March 11 at Charlotte FC, noon, Fox

March 18 vs. Portland Timbers, 7:30 p.m.

March 25 at Columbus Crew, 7:30 p.m.

April 1 vs. New York Red Bulls, 7:30 p.m.

April 8 at New York City FC, 7:30 p.m.

April 15 at Toronto FC, 7:30 p.m.

April 23 vs. Chicago Fire FC, 4:30 p.m., FS1

April 29 at Nashville SC, 1:30 p.m., Fox

May 6 at Inter Miami CF, 7:30 p.m.

May 13 vs. Charlotte FC, 7:30 p.m.

May 17 vs. Colorado Rapids, 7:30 p.m.

May 20 at Chicago Fire FC, 8:30 p.m.

May 27 at Orlando City SC, 7:30 p.m.

May 31 vs. New England Revolution, 7:30 p.m., FS1

June 3 at Los Angeles FC, 10:30 p.m.

June 10 vs. D.C. United, 7:30 p.m.

June 21 vs. New York City FC, 7:30 p.m.

June 24 at New York Red Bulls, 7:30 p.m.

July 2 vs. Philadelphia Union, 4 p.m., Fox

July 8 at CF Montreal, 7:30 p.m.

July 12 at New England Revolution, 7:30 p.m.

July 15 vs. Orlando City SC, 7:30 p.m., FS1

Aug. 20 at Seattle Sounders, 10:30 p.m.

Aug. 26 vs. Nashville SC, 7:30 p.m.

Aug. 30 vs. FC Cincinnati, 7:30 p.m.

Sept. 2 at FC Dallas, 8:30 p.m.

Sept. 16 vs. Inter Miami CF, 7:30 p.m.

Sept. 20 at D.C. United, 7:30 p.m.

Sept. 23 vs. CF Montreal, 7:30 p.m.

Oct. 4 at Philadelphia Union, 7:30 p.m.

Oct. 7 vs. Columbus Crew, 7:30 p.m.

Oct. 21 at FC Cincinnati, TBA