To say Thiago Almada has started the season well would be an understatement. Four goals and four assists in the same amount of games is a remarkable return. This contribution has seen his stock rise to become arguably the early pacesetter in the MLS MVP race.
Atlanta United's $16 million purchase of Almada from Vélez Sarsfield in 2022 raised eyebrows when they broke the league’s transfer record for the relatively untested 20-year-old.
In Atlanta’s case, the gamble has come with a huge pay-off given the performance of Almada. A call-up last December to the World Cup squad of tournament winners Argentina and interest from clubs around Europe indicate that the future looks bright for the young attacking midfielder.
The signing of Almada and others like it suggest GMs around the league are opting to sign younger players with potential rather than players in/or past their prime.
An example of this was Miguel Almiron, who was sold to Newcastle for $27 million. This model of buying young and selling high could turn out to be lucrative for teams around the league, especially Atlanta United with who Almada is contracted until 2025.
Let us examine the numbers and see why Thiago Almada has a promising future for club and country.
PFF passing grade: 97.5 (position rank: 1st/149)
Despite only being in week 6, a passing grade of 97.5 is close to perfection. Alamada has also contributed in the final third, sitting at the top of the assists chart with four.
Comparing this to 2022, he had a grade of 90.0 which is also elite performance. Improving upon this grade was always going to be difficult, yet he has managed to go one step further.
Almada's pass completion percentage of 87% is solid for a player in his position who likes to take risks. It proves he can pass accurately under pressure and make the right decisions more often than not, qualities which have elevated him into the Argentina set-up and caught the eye of head coach Lionel Scaloni.
PFF shooting grade: 83.0 shooting grade (6th/106)
His shooting ability is another area where he excels. Being ranked sixth is no easy task when you see the talent in the league. The variety of goals he can score has stood out the most, it could be a close-range shot or a long-distance free kick. So far in this season, he has done it all.
He has also come in clutch towards the end of games, such as the game-winner against San Jose Earthquakes in injury time in . The quality of his free kicks has also been of note, with 50% of his goals coming from set pieces.
His outrageous free kick against the Portland Timbers will likely be a strong candidate for Goal of the Season. With a long way to go until October, Almada is well on track to surpass double figures — an excellent return for a player in his position.
OMG Thiago Almada! ????
Absolute world-class strike. pic.twitter.com/cxnCYD0Rky
— Major League Soccer (@MLS) March 19, 2023
PFF crossing grade: 74.5 (13th/119)
His crossing grade has decreased when comparing it to last year's figure. In 2022 he had a grade of 83.4, a great return. Even though he has fallen out of the top ten, his grade of 74.5 is still very respectable.
For a player in his position crossing is not the main component of his game. Almada is a player who likes to float around the pitch, looking for pockets of space between the back four and midfield. This number will likely improve as the season progresses.
PFF ball carry grade: 67.2 (53rd/142)
His ball carry grade is decent but not great. His style of play is not necessarily based on beating defenders with power and pace, it is about positional intelligence and technical ability in possession.
In 2022 he had a grade of 71.4, this illustrates he has taken a backward step in this part of his game. Nonetheless, it is still early in the season and things are likely to change throughout the year the more playing time he gets.
Almada is one of the brightest young talents the MLS has ever seen. How long it will last will depend on the player and the parties involved. It is fair to say that his move to Atlanta has paid off, and both parties are reaping the benefits of potential turning into reality.