Meet Thiago Almada: The Atlanta star who models his game after “idol” Riquelme


2023 MLS Player of the Season 

©TM/IMAGO

Thiago Almada had an incredible 2023 season for Atlanta United. The 22-year-old attacking midfielder scored 11 goals and 16 assists in 31 Major League Soccer regular season games for the Five Stripes. Those numbers further underlined his status as the biggest talent in MLS. It was also enough to convince Transfermarkt users that Almada was the best player in MLS last season. Almada won 44.3% of the vote to win the TM MLS Player of the Season Award, coming in ahead of Columbus Crew striker Cucho Hernández (10.7%), Orlando City playmaker Facundo Torres (10.1%), LAFC winger Denis Bouanga (6.8%) and Cincinnati star Luciano Acosta (5.8%). 

Thiago Almada - Player of the Season Results

“Firstly, thank you very much,” Almada said when asked about the Transfermarkt Player of the Season award. “Secondly, yes, it’s something important for me as an award personally but I also thank all my teammates because this is also thanks to them, and I’m happy for the award and hope to continue like this.” For Almada, it was almost a vindication of a successful 2022 season in which he became the first active MLS player to win the World Cup with Argentina. “I think after the World Cup, it was very important for me to achieve that goal,” Almada said. “I think after the World Cup, on a personal level, I felt that I had a great year in Atlanta.”

At this point, it is vital to rewind a bit. Because it wasn’t always a given that Almada would be part of Argentina’s World Cup squad in 2022. Atlanta United signed Almada for a league record €14.55 million from Vélez Sarsfield in February 2022. From the moment Almada signed, the expectation has always been that the Argentine would break the record for the most expensive sale by an MLS club. A record that was set by his club, Atlanta United, when they sold Paraguayan winger Miguel Almirón for €24 million to Newcastle United in 2019.

Almada, Musa and Co.: Major League Soccer record transfers

Gabriel Pec | LA Galaxy | Signed from Vasco da Gama

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Transfer fee: €9.3m

Evander | Portland Timbers | Signed from Midtjylland

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Transfer fee: €9.5m

Cucho Hernández | Columbus Crew | Signed from Watford

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Transfer fee: €9.55m

Petar Musa | FC Dallas| Signed from Benfica

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Fee: €10m + €3m in bonuses

Brian Rodríguez | LAFC | Signed from Peñarol

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Transfer fee: €10.45m

Rodolfo Pizarro | Inter Miami CF | Signed from CF Monterrey

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Transfer fee: €10.9m

Luiz Araújo | Atlanta United | Signed from LOSC Lille

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Transfer fee: €11.5m

Brenner | FC Cincinnati | Signed from São Paulo

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Transfer fee: €11.8m

Hugo Cuypers | Chicago Fire | Signed from KAA Gent

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Transfer fee: €12m

Esequiel Barco | Atlanta United | Signed from Independiente

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Transfer fee: €12.3m

Pity Martînez | Atlanta United | Signed from River Plate

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Transfer fee: €14.5m

Thiago Almada | Atlanta United| Signed from Vélez Sarsfield

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Transfer fee: €14.55m

Thiago Almada: Premier League clubs interested in Atlanta star?

With that in mind, it wasn’t surprising, perhaps, that Almada felt the pressure a bit in 2022, taking his time to acclimatize but still scoring a respectable six goals and seven assists in 29 MLS games in 2022. “I think I’d put [2023] as my best year of the two that I’ve been here because I was able to show what I can do on the field, and I know I can give more, so I hope this year to be able to give even more to the club,” Almada said when asked about his visible step forward in 2023. 

Thiago Almada - With the TM Player of the Season Award (Photo via Atlanta United)

Thiago Almada – With the TM Player of the Season Award (Photo via Atlanta United)

Indeed, with the season that Almada had in 2023, it isn’t surprising that several European clubs have taken note. Almada has been linked with a move to Atlético Madrid, VfB Stuttgart, Napoli, Manchester United, and Manchester City in the Transfermarkt Rumor Mill. But Almada didn’t want to address any of those rumors to Transfermarkt. Instead, the entire focus is on the 2024 season, in which Atlanta started with a 1-0 defeat to title holders Columbus Crew.

De 30 meest waardevolle Belgen wereldwijd

30. Alexis Saelemaekers | Bologna FC | Marktwaarde: 10 MLN €

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24. Mandela Keita | R Antwerp FC | Marktwaarde: 11 MLN €

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24. Michel-Ange Balikwisha | R Antwerp FC | Marktwaarde: 11 MLN €

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24. Maarten Vandevoordt | KRC Genk | Marktwaarde: 11 MLN €

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24. Hugo Cuypers | KAA Gent | Marktwaarde: 11 MLN €

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24. Bryan Heynen | KRC Genk | Marktwaarde: 11 MLN €

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24. Leander Dendoncker | Aston Villa | Marktwaarde: 11 MLN €

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22. Aster Vranckx | VfL Wolfsburg | Marktwaarde: 12 MLN €

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22. Albert Sambi Lokonga | Luton Town | Marktwaarde: 12 MLN €

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21. Zeno Debast | RSC Anderlecht | Marktwaarde: 13 MLN €

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18. Ameen Al-Dakhil | Burnley FC | Marktwaarde: 15 MLN €

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18. Mike Trésor | Burnley FC | Marktwaarde: 15 MLN €

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18. Dodi Lukébakio | Sevilla FC | Marktwaarde: 15 MLN €

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17. Timothy Castagne | Fulham FC | Marktwaarde: 17 MLN €

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16. Yannick Carrasco | Al-Shabab FC | Marktwaarde: 18 MLN €

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13. Arthur Theate | Stade Rennes | Marktwaarde: 20 MLN €

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13. Wout Faes | Leicester City | Marktwaarde: 20 MLN €

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13. Youri Tielemans | Aston Villa | Marktwaarde: 20 MLN €

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12. Orel Mangala | Nottingham Forest | Marktwaarde: 22 MLN €

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11. Charles De Ketelaere | Atalanta Bergamo | Marktwaarde: 25 MLN €

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10. Arthur Vermeeren | R Antwerp FC | Marktwaarde: 30 MLN €

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8. Thibaut Courtois | Real Madrid | Marktwaarde: 35 MLN €

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8. Romelu Lukaku | AS Roma | Marktwaarde: 35 MLN €

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7. Leandro Trossard | Arsenal FC | Marktwaarde: 38 MLN €

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6. Johan Bakayoko | PSV Eindhoven | Marktwaarde: 40 MLN €

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4. Roméo Lavia | Chelsea FC | Marktwaarde: 50 MLN €

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4. Amadou Onana | Everton FC | Marktwaarde: 50 MLN €

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3. Loïs Openda | RB Leipzig | Marktwaarde: 55 MLN €

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2. Kevin De Buyne | Manchester City | Marktwaarde: 60 MLN €

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1. Jérémy Doku | Manchester City | Marktwaarde: 65 MLN €

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Despite that defeat, however, Almada is optimistic about this year’s campaign. “Good, we’re working very well,” Almada said when asked about this season’s preparation. Then he added something that all Atlanta fans would like to hear. “The goals are to try to qualify for the playoffs, to try to win a cup this year, and compete in the best way every day.”

Almada wants to win a “cup” with Atlanta – Riquelme his idol

Atlanta United very much set the standard for any MLS expansion team when the club came into the league in 2017. Within a couple of years, Atlanta had won the MLS Cup, the US Open Cup, and the Campeones Cup. But those trophies all date back to 2018 and 2019. In other words, it has been too long since there has been a trophy celebration at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Almada and Atlanta United want to change that sooner rather than later. There are indeed a few trophy options this year. But whether it is the MLS Cup, US Open Cup or the Leagues Cup, the Five Stripes will have to get past Inter Miami with Almada’s compatriot and the only player with a higher market value than Almada, Lionel Messi, in the fold. 

Almirón, Durán and Pepi – The MLS record departures

Jozy Altidore | New York Red Bulls -> Villarreal

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Transfer fee: €7.3m

Ismaël Koné | CF Montréal -> Watford

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Transfer fee: €8m

Daryl Dike | Orlando City -> West Bromwich

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Transfer fee: €8.6m

Luiz Araújo | Atlanta United -> Flamengo

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Transfer fee: €9m

Gabriel Slonina | Chicago Fire -> Chelsea

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Transfer fee: €9.1m

Gabriel Pereira | New York City FC -> Al-Rayyan SC

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Transfer fee: €10m

Brenner | FC Cincinnati -> Udinese Calcio

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Transfer fee: €10m

Brenden Aaronson | Philadelphia Union -> RB Salzburg

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Transfer fee: €12.7m

Alphonso Davies | Vancouver Whitecaps FC -> Bayern Munich

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Transfer fee: €14m

Djordje Petrovic | New England Revolution -> Chelsea FC

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Transfer fee: €14m

Taty Castellanos | New York City FC -> Lazio

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Transfer fee: €15m

Pity Martínez | Atlanta United FC -> Al-Nassr FC

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Transfer fee: €16m

Ricardo Pepi | FC Dallas -> FC Augsburg

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Transfer fee: €16.36m

Jhon Durán | Chicago Fire FC -> Aston Villa

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Transfer fee: €16.64m

Miguel Almirón | Atlanta United FC -> Newcastle United

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Transfer fee: €24m

Even though Messi’s arrival in Miami complicates Atlanta’s path to titles, Almada has been positive about the superstar’s arrival. “As everyone saw, the arrival of Leo to MLS was very important [for MLS],” Almada said. It gave it enormous growth. From Leo, you learn something every game you watch or, in my case, being on the [Argentina] squad with him every day, the will that he has to keep winning even though he’s won everything and is the best in the world. He’s a great example for all football players.”

Player Comparison

Atlanta United FC

Inter Miami CF

€27.00m

Market Value

€35.00m



Attacking Midfield

Position

Right Winger


Dec 31, 2026

Contract until

Dec 31, 2025

Full Player Comparison

There is no doubt that Almada admires Messi but the 22-year-old actually admires another Argentine great. “Obviously, each player makes their own career, their own life, but Messi is a great example,” Almada said. “For me, my main idol was always Riquelme,” Almada said. It is a comparison that makes sense. After all, Almada, the second most valuable player in the league behind Messi, is a very different player than the Miami star. Indeed, Juan Román Riquelme might be the best comparison. Like the former Barça, Villarreal, and Boca Juniors star, Almada is a classical playmaker with an incredible freekick technique that makes him one of the most unique prospects in the world game and a deserved 2023 MLS Transfermarkt Player of the Season. 


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