Thiago Almada kicked off Atlanta United's 2023 season with an unreal and memorable performance on Saturday in front of a full house at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, scoring two late goals to help Atlanta United come-from-behind and defeat the San Jose Earthquakes 2-1 in the MLS season opener.
Trailing most of the match 1-0, Atlanta United turned the game around when Almada scored back-to-back bangers in stoppage time. Within a span of six minutes, the 21-year-old finished two last-gasp golazos to give Atlanta three points and the club's first-ever comeback win after trailing in the 75th minute.
With the brace, Almada becomes the first player in club history to score two goals in stoppage time. His second goal, which came at an official exact time of 98:04, was also the latest goal scored in Atlanta United history in MLS play.
"We were just shouting with euphoria because it was in the last minute, so we were all just really happy," Almada said after the match.
The performance meant the league's first-ever World Cup winner once again made MLS history. Per the MLS Communications team, on Saturday Almada became just the fourth player in MLS to score a game-tying goal AND a game-winning goal in the 90th minute or later of a match. (He's the first to do so since 2018 with Albert Rusnák of Real Salt Lake.) Almada's finish in the 99th minute was also the latest game-winning direct free kick goal in MLS play since 2003.
"I'm very, very happy for this team victory," Almada said. "It was really important for us to start this season with a win, especially at home. So, I'm very happy for the team to feel good."
When Almada spoke to reporters after the match, he didn't act like a big-time game hero. He was cool and calm, giving credit to his teammates and the group's collective effort. He even dedicated his goal celebration to his family and hometown. Even as a World Cup champion, and after a performance like tonight's, his coaches and teammates see Almada as a humble kid, perhaps an underrated quality for someone of his age.
"He's a fantastic kid with a great mentality," head coach Gonzalo Pineda said. "What I love is his humility. When we start to talk in the locker room, the first thing I say about Thiago is his goals and he said it's about the whole team, it's about the whole effort from everyone. And I think that speaks for itself. He's an unselfish player that, yesterday he might be the hero but he's willing to not be the hero as long as we win. And that's pretty nice for a 21-year-old."