Thiago Almada’s agent is unlikely to be one of the voices calling for Major League Soccer to stop through FIFA international match windows. Almada’s value as arguably the most certain European-bound current MLS star has been in plain sight through his opening four games of the 2023 Regular season.
The 21-year-old Argentine (who is already a World Cup winner) merely scored four goals and assisted four more to start the new campaign, helping his team earn 10 points from 12 in the process.
With Almada one of several Atlanta players away on international duty, a team that entered having won back-to-back games by a combined seven-goal margin was on the other side of a 6-1 hiding to a Columbus Crew team also missing key internationals.
And while the final score deceiving in terms of the chances Columbus created, Atlanta’s struggle to generate offense without Almada was glaring.
According to estimates by Transfermarkt, Almada is tied for one of the four-most valuable transfer commodities within MLS at about $16 million. But of that quartet, only he and New York City FC’s Talles Magno are on the ascendancy of their careers. And Transfermarkt hasn’t updated Almada’s value since the start of the new season, in which he has emerged as an MVP front-runner.
The main question is whether Atlanta could possibly part with Almada before the 2023 season ends. And there’s two ways performances like Saturday’s could influence summer negotiations.
Lagerwey, manager Gonzalo Pineda and others within the technical staff could look at the game film with fear of what could become of a promising season if they sold Almada, and raise the asking price even higher in the short-term.
Conversely, European suitors could look at the difference in performances with and without the attacker and concluded he’s worth even more financial risk than they might’ve otherwise.
If he stays healthy, it’s unlikely there will come too many more occasions to evaluate an Almada-less Atlanta. But it’s possible a June 21 home match against New York City FC could clash with another call-up to play alongside Lionel Messi and company.
There are few parallels to draw from here, particularly if Almada goes in the summer. When Atlanta sold Almiron, they at least managed to hang onto him until after he’d helped lead the second-year MLS team to the 2018 MLS Cup title.
And even though it’s early days in the 2023 season, you could argue even Almiron wasn’t as influential for that 2018 team as Almada has been so far to the 2023 version.
After all, Almiron did get to pair with an in-form Josef Martinez at striker. Further, these kind of transactions aren’t something Lagerwey became super familiar with in his previous roles running the Seattle Sounders or Real Salt Lake before that.
While the Sounders in particular did plenty of business in the international market with Lagerwey, they generally purchased more experienced players with an aim on keeping them through their prime in Seattle.