It was Almiron’s first match in Atlanta since he was sold in January of 2019 for an MLS record $27 million. He was injured and unable to play when Paraguay played Mexico here last year.
Almiron declined to speak to non-rights holder media for the second consecutive day.
It had been a long time since he was in the city. So, Almiron was cheered during warmups. He was cheered during the lineup announcement. He was cheered again just before kickoff. He acknowledged the love by slowly turning in a circle while applauding the people in the stadium.
And then the friendly started.
Chelsea took a 1-0 lead in the 12th minute when Ian Maatsen turned about 40 yards from goal and played in Nicolas Jackson, who slotted a right-footed shot past Martin Dubravka and into the right corner. Newcastle had enjoyed most of the possession until the Blues went right up the middle of the pitch in a few passes.
Almiron on Wednesday made a few of the runs -- head forward, arms spread out behind him so that he looked, as Martinez once described, like an “ostrich,” -- with the same effort that endeared him to the Five Stripes faithful when he scored 21 goals with 28 assists in 62 regular season appearances.
As he was at Atlanta United, Almiron has become a fan favorite at Newcastle, where he has scored 23 goals the past four seasons, including 11 in 2022-23 to help the club qualify for the Champions League.
Almiron was subbed out in the 78th minute, giving the supporters one last chance to applaud him. They did. Enthusiastically.
In the first match, Brighton opened the scoring in the 19th minute when goalkeeper Jason Steele played a ball down the middle of the pitch for Simon Adingra to run onto, just ahead of a Brentford defender. Adingra took a touch to set up the shot, and then blasted a right-footed effort past onrushing goalkeeper Mark Flekken. It was a “Route 1″ goal that went against Brighton & Hove’s reputation as being one of the best teams in the Premier League at patiently and cleverly playing out of the back. Steele had one assist last season. Adingra signed with Brighton in June 2022 but spent last season on loan with Union SG in Belgium.
Adingra completed his brace with a right-footed shot from a tight angle into the lower right corner in the 58th minute.
The night was successful for everyone.
The four teams were able to continue to prepare for their pending seasons and the stadium was able to see how the grass would hold up to the rigors of back-to-back matches. It was the first time since the stadium was constructed in 2017 that grass was put down for a sporting event. The cost was $300,000 but worth it because it was considered a test run of what may happen when some of the World Cup is played here in 2026 and grass will again be put down.
“The grass … it feels like the ball was rolling well of course when I walked on it,” Brentford manager Thomas Frank said.
He said there were some places where the rolls hadn’t fully grown together but he said he had no complaints.
Brighton & Hove Albion manager Roberto De Zerbi said his squad loved the stadium.
“It’s good to play in the USA because … the stadiums are all very nice,” De Zerbi said.
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