Atlanta United forward Thiago Almada celebrates with his fists raised high after scoring a goal during a Major League Soccer match against the Portland Timbers on Saturday, March 18, 2023 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Photo: Itoro N. Umontuen/The Atlanta Voice

Atlanta United midfielder Thiago Alamada has got to be the Major League Soccer Most Valuable Player this season. I’m not sure what else the second-year star Argentinian can do to further make his case.

Alamada has set a franchise record with 16 assists through 29 matches this season. He has also scored 11 goals this season and is the preeminent free kick artist in the league. There have been several big moments this season where his play has not only kept United in crucial matches, but has won matches.

During Saturday’s match against Columbus, a 1-1 draw, the regular season finale at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Almada had a quiet first half, but would secure his 17th assist of the season.

Almada had scored goals in the previous two matches; a loss at Philadelphia and a victory against Montreal. Late in the match against Columbus with United down 1-0 on what was more than likely their final possession of the match, Almada’s free kick found Miles Robinson for the tying goal.

Thiago Almada celebrrates after scoring a goal during a Major League Soccer match against Nashville Soccer Club on Saturday, August 26, 2023 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Itoro N. Umontuen/The Atlanta Voice

After the match Robinson complimented Almada’s free kick and said of his goal, his second this season, “I had an opportunity to put it in.”

Almada would be the second United player to be awarded the top individual award alongside former teammate and current Inter Miami forward Josef Martinez, who won the award in 2018. That season Martinez won the MLS Cup MVP, All Star Game MVP and regular season MVP. That feat has not been duplicated before or since.

Playoff prep:

During the postgame press conference United manager Gonzalo Pineda said his team can play against the best in this league and the past two games were examples of that. The past two matches against Philadelphia, Saturday night against Columbus and in a couple weeks in Cincinnati can be seen as playoff prep.

Pineda agreed.

“That’s exactly the point of all of this,” he said. “I think we can match the intensity and football of the best teams in the league. We can use this to really compete against the best. teams in the league.”

Atlanta closes the 2023 regular season at TQL Stadium in Cincinnati against the Eastern Conference’s overall number one seed Cincinnati FC, Saturday, Oct. 21.

Atlanta United is now the fastest Major League Soccer franchise to pass the 5 million fans mark. Photo by Donnell Suggs/The Atlanta Voice

5 Million and counting

Atlanta surpassed the 5 million fan mark Saturday night, making the 6-year-old franchise the fastest in MLS history to do so. Saturday’s attendance was 42,684 with the Atlanta Braves playing a playoff game up I-75 at the same time.

Born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, Donnell began his career covering sports and news in Atlanta nearly two decades ago. Since then he has written for Atlanta Business Chronicle, The Southern Cross...