How will the 2017 MLS Newcomer of the Year fare in 2018? Can he power Atlanta United to an MLS Cup? Will he even be a Five Stripe come next October?
The signing of Miguel Almiron in December of 2016 marked a historic day for both Atlanta United and MLS. This was the first major player personnel move in Atlanta United’s now trailblazing philosophy. Signed for $8 million from Lanus in Argentina, Miguel Almiron and his “First Day of Kindergarten” smile quickly became a household name in MLS before he had even played a minute. However, Miggy would show the league that he was well worth the near-MLS record transfer fee and that $8 million was a bargain and not a risk. Performances from Almiron throughout Atlanta’s stellar first season soon proved that Darren Eales, Carlos Bocanegra and the Atlanta United front office knew what they were doing. Thanks to play from Almiron, among others, Atlanta United set a new precedent for expansion teams in MLS. Miggy’s fantastic play earned him an exhaustive list of honors including MLS Newcomer of the Year, finalist for MLS MVP, 7 MLS Team of the Week appearances and 2 MLS Player of the Week awards, and of course earning an MLS All Star appearance along the way, all in his first season in MLS. While also being named the No. 1 player Under-24 in MLS by the league, Almiron has begun to garner interest from some of Europe’s biggest clubs such as Arsenal, Benfica and Inter Milan. It is inevitable Miguel Almiron will leave for Europe one day, sooner rather than later, but will it happen before he helps Atlanta United reach the top of the mountain?
In 2018, eyes will look to Miguel Almiron as the driving force in Atlanta United’s team. If the Five Stripes hope to reach their goals this season, they’ll need all of their stars peaking at the right times throughout the season. Miguel Almiron’s 2017 was special in many different ways but there is without a doubt room for improvement. Miggy’s ability with the ball in space is mesmerizing, the way he seemingly glides across the turf as his defenders fade in pursuit and how he is ostensibly quicker with the ball than he is without it, a rare quality. These things make him special and in space he is a nightmare for the opposition, especially given the type of team he is playing in. However, as it is with all players, there is always room for improvement. Due to his potential, no matter how well Miggy is playing, Atlanta fans should always demand and expect improvement. With Almiron’s pace on the ball and Atlanta’s ability to counter attack, there is definitely room to grow on the 9 goal tally he had in 2017, even playing as an attacking midfielder.
Atlanta led the league in Possession percentage in 2017. Translation, there were more chances than the average MLS attacking midfielder for Miguel Almiron to create or finish chances. Given the additions of Ezequiel Barco and Darlington Nagbe to an already extremely talented attacking roster, there should be even more space for Miguel Almiron to operate, producing at an even greater clip. Powered by the genius of Miguel Almiron, it’s very possible the 2018 Atlanta United squad could be one of the most productive teams in MLS history. Yet if Miggy wants to become a star at one of Europe’s top clubs, he must steadily improve in every area of his game, including this season, and I believe he is in the best MLS situation possible for him to do so. On paper, with as much room to operate as he will have on a consistent basis in this Atlanta team, Miguel Almiron is an automatic contender for MLS MVP. Miggy could very reasonably get 15 goals and 15 assists in 2018, and maybe exceed that total assuming he stays healthy in Atlanta the entire season. Moreover, it seems that is the case as Miguel Almiron is 100% focused on the season ahead but he is not alone. Returning determined, Almiron and the rest of Atlanta’s young stars feel the team did not reach their potential a year ago. Last November, Miggy wrote a Players’ Tribune letter addressed to Atlanta, describing the feeling after their playoff exit to Columbus.
I didn’t sleep at all after we lost to Columbus.
I didn’t think losing would hurt as much as it did. Everything was new this year for me — the country, the city of Atlanta, the club. Even though I’d been here 10 months, I felt like I was still settling in by the time the playoffs came around. But I didn’t know how connected to Atlanta I had become.
And by losing that match, I felt like we let the city down. I’m sorry for that.
Atlanta United will have their chance for redemption, but Almiron may have a difficult choice to make on the journey through 2018. It’s inevitable Miggy will make a move beyond MLS and Atlanta United but the question is… “when?”
He has expressed multiple times how happy he is at the club. Miggy told AJC.com he’s “not trying to rush anything” and is just “trying to be prepared as possible if that moment comes”. Yet for the time being, Almiron is focused on winning in Atlanta, recently telling ATLUTD.com, “We want to win the league”. Atlanta United fans will hope he is a Five Stripe until after the 2018 season, allowing Atlanta the best opportunity to reach the team’s goals. Atlanta has an incredibly talented squad but it is not the same when Miguel Almiron is not present and playing at his best because he is the difference maker every championship winning team needs. 2018 brings much optimism and expectation for Atlanta United and its fans, with much to look forward to. Miguel Almiron gives them a reason to believe in 2018, that for once in Atlanta, the optimism is warranted and those expectations will be reached.
Matt Fowler | @Mattianta