Thiago Almada scores magical stoppage-time brace to deliver win in season opener


Atlanta United opened the 2023 season on an electric note -- and with three points, thanks to an absolute stunning last-gasp brace from World Cup champion Thiago Almada on Saturday night. With Ludacris in the building to hit the Golden Spike, in front a full-venue crowd on hand at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, the hosts rallied to beat the San Jose Earthquakes 2-1 in what was an unbelievably memorable way to kick off the club's seventh MLS season.

First half - Brad Guzan, Miles Robinson in Atlanta United's starting XI

Goalkeeper Brad Guzan and center back Miles Robinson made their first appearance in a competitive match since they both missed a significant portion of the 2022 season due to injury.

Ludacris was the Golden Spike hitter and got the full-venue crowd at Mercedes-Benz Stadium loud and rowdy. After the first 10 minutes were a little stop-and-go, the 5-Stripes drew a foul and received a free kick in their attacking third. Luiz Araújo whipped the ball across the box with his left foot. Franco Ibarra received the cross and lofted a volley back into the box to give defender Andrew Gutman a chance on the far post, but Gutman's run was a little too close for him to put a header on goal.

The visitors opened the scoring when two of their experienced playmakers linked up in the 12th minute. Midfielder Cristian Espinoza was forced outside by Gutman but had a lot of space 1v1 on the right side to drive a cross through the six-yard box. San Jose's leading goal scorer last season, Jeremy Ebobisse, was there to finish it off with a header to score the club's first goal of the 2023 season and give the Quakes an early 1-0 lead.

Atlanta United's big, bald wall Brad Guzan came up with a big save in 18th minute, his first save since April 2022. The full crowd on hand at Mercedes-Benz Stadium erupted in a "Guuuuuuuzan" cheer for their captain.

Later in the first half, Atlanta United earned a penalty kick on a handball and had a chance to even the match. Araújo took the PK for the 5-Stripes in the 40th minute, but his left-footed shot flew wide.

Atlanta United closed out the first 45 minutes with another save from Guzan, on a shot from Cade Cowell, and a shot on goal from Thiago Almada, who brilliantly weaved in between San Jose's defense to set up his shot. The first half drew to a close with the Quakes up 1-0.

Second half - Miguel Berry, Derrick Etienne Jr. debut for Atlanta United, then... Thiago Almada ⭐

The second half started a little slow but in the 49th minute, Guzan came up with a twitchy save to keep the visitors from doubling their lead.

In the 56th minute, Atlanta United head coach Gonzalo Pineda made his first substitutions of the match. Miguel Berry and Derrick Etienne Jr. came on for Jackson Conway and Caleb Wiley. It marked the club debut for both Berry and Etienne Jr.

Atlanta United had another exciting moment in the 58th minute. Araújo used his speed to carry the ball up the pitch end-to-end. He sent a pass to Almada, whose shot was blocked by a San Jose defender. Araújo scooped up the deflection and with his next touch scorched a shot toward goal with his right foot. The shot missed the mark by inches.

Two more substitutes entered the match for Atlanta in the 80th minute. Amar Sejdić replaced Matheus Rossetto and Luis Abram came on for Juanjo Purata. Sejdić immediately got involved in the attack and took a shot, but San Jose's goalkeeper Daniel De Sousa Brito made the stop.

Then, it was time for Thiago Almada. On an Atlanta United corner kick, Brooks Lennon played the ball short and low to a wide open Almada at the top of the box. Atlanta United's Starboy made magic happen as he calmly collected the ball with one touch then delivered a banger that struck the crossbar and bounced in. The goal equalized the match 1-1 in the 93rd minute.

Then, the Argentine midfielder did it again. Etienne Jr. drew a foul and Atlanta United was awarded a direct free kick outside the arc in the last few seconds remaining in the match. Almada stepped up and knocked it through, scoring his second goal in stoppage time and snatching three points for Atlanta United. The 21-year-old midfielder's back-to-back bangers made club and league history.

Match Stats
Atlanta United
San Jose Earthquakes
Shots on target
Corner kicks
Fouls committed
Passing accuracy

Up next - Atlanta United back home next Saturday

The 5-Stripes are back home next Saturday for their first Eastern conference test against Toronto FC. Kickoff on Saturday, March 4 is scheduled for 7:30 p.m.

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