For the first time ever, an MLS player has made it to the World Cup final
The growth of Major League Soccer continues to be highlighted and the 2022 World Cup only reinforces that case.
The tournament started with 36 MLS players on the squads competing in Qatar. Some of the most notable were among those who have already shone on the world stage, such as Gareth Bale, Xherdan Shaqiri and Hector Herrera, among others. But for those who follow the league closely, it’s many of the talented younger players who continue to show how far MLS has come in its 28 years of existence.
And the World Cup final between Argentina and France or Morocco will mark another milestone for the league as Atlanta United’s Thiago Almada becomes the first active MLS player to reach that game.
World Cup finalists have called MLS home after making it, including Frenchman Thierry Henry (New York Red Bulls, 2010-14), Blaise Matuidi (Inter Miami, 2020-21) and Youri Djorkaeff (Red Bulls, 2005 -06; Brazil’s Kaká (Orlando City, 2014-17); Italy’s Andrea Pirlo (New York City FC, 2015-17); Germany’s Bastian Schweinsteiger (Chicago Fire, 2017-19) and Torsten Frings (Toronto FC, 2011-12) Argentina’s Gonzalo Higuaín (Inter Miami, 2020-22) and Spain’s David Villa (NYCFC, 2014-18) But neither played in the league when they reached the final like Almada is currently doing.
The 21-year-old midfielder was named MLS Newcomer of the Year last season and has a bright future ahead of him. His international career as a senior with Argentina only began a few months ago and even that was a momentous event. On September 23, Almada entered a friendly against Honduras in the 54th minute and played alongside Lionel Messi and co for most of the second half. After the 3-0 win, Messi was asked about Almada and praised: ” He’s very fast and he has a lot of 1v1 ability. He is very smart and is not afraid of anything. He walks towards you.”
Although Almada was included in Argentina’s list as an injured substitute and only featured once for a few minutes against Poland, Almada is poised to make history as the first active MLS player to win the World Cup.
Memorize the name because win or lose, there’s a good chance you’ll likely be hearing it a lot in the future, including at the 2026 tournament.