Yamil Asad leaving his own mark with Atlanta United

Yamil Asad’s name is forever etched in Atlanta United history. In the 25th minute of the club’s inaugural match on March 5, in front of a sellout crowd at Bobby Dodd Stadium, the 22-year-old midfielder slotted home a cross at the back post to score Atlanta’s first goal in Major League Soccer and send the stadium into a frenzy.  

“It’s not something that happens every day to players, to score the first goal in the history of a club,” Asad said. “That’s going to remain in history. It was a wonderful moment, and even though we lost, it was an unforgettable night for me.”

The San Antonio de Padua, Argentina native has started 17 games for Atlanta in his first MLS season, scored two goals and tallied a team-high nine assists, second-most in MLS. Asad joined Atlanta on a season-long loan in January from Argentine first division club Vélez Sarsfield.  He made his professional debut with Vélez in 2013 and went on to appear in 55 matches and score four goals with the club before making the jump to MLS.     

“In Argentina the image and the name of MLS is growing every day,” Asad said. “It’s a very competitive league. When Tata called me to play here, I didn’t even hesitate. It’s a league that’s experiencing huge growth. I think it was the best decision I made to come here to MLS. We always talk among the guys about the passion here for soccer, and it’s something that’s caught out attention.”

Soccer runs in the Asad family. Yamil’s father, Omar Asad, is a legend at Vélez Sarsfield, where Yamil spent his entire playing career before coming to Atlanta. Omar Asad won eight titles as a player with Vélez during the ‘90’s, including the 1994 Copa Libertadores and 1994 Intercontinental Cup (since replaced by the FIFA Club World Cup), and later coached youth teams at Vélez before moving on to manage clubs in Argentina, Ecuador and Mexico.

Asad was named Man of the Match in the Intercontinental Cup final after scoring the second goal in a 2-0 win over A.C. Milan to help his team become the world champions of club football. It’s a feat not lost on Yamil, who was born in the same year as those two finals, as he decided to commemorate his father’s historic goal with a tattoo on his right thigh. It means that even now, playing away from home for the first time in his career, his family legacy will never leave him.

“He’s an idol at Vélez and there was always the possibility, and it was his intention, to coach at Vélez,” Asad said. “At the same time, I was taking my first steps in the first division and that doesn’t help a player because you have to make your own career, and that was another reason to leave Vélez. I needed a change of air, to make my own career and not draw comparisons. Atlanta opened the door for me and I’m really appreciative for that.”

Asad said at one time his father had the possibility to coach him with a youth team at Vélez but luckily it didn’t happen “because if he didn’t play me then my mom was going to kill him.” Arguments aside, Asad added that it was great growing up because the conversation was always about soccer.

“It’s important to have a father in your house who’s also a coach and in his time was a player, and things went well for him as a player because he won everything,” Asad said. “Sometimes you clash a lot because as a kid you think you know everything but your father always gives the best advice and I appreciate it a lot.”

The most important piece of advice: shoot on goal. It’s something he remembers his father telling him as a kid and also hearing fellow Argentine and current Atlético de Madrid boss Diego Simeone tell his son. Shoot on goal when you have the opportunity because you never know what can happen.

While playing for a mostly Argentine coaching staff and having a group of teammates from South America has eased the transition on the field, Asad is still adjusting to life off the field in Atlanta. One of the perks to the city is being home to an NBA team, which has allowed Asad, a longtime basketball fan, to finally experience games in person. He says he liked the Oklahoma City Thunder during the Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant days, but he’s been to multiple Hawks games since coming to Atlanta. He admits that adjusting to a new country isn’t always easy.

“I think being alone is an enormous challenge for me,” Asad said. “In Argentina I lived alone but I knew that I could pick up the phone and my family and friends were minutes away. Here it’s totally different. It’s the next step in a career that I started at Vélez, and today I’m continuing in Atlanta and the truth is I’m very happy here.”