Atlanta United

Thiago Almada apologizes to Atlanta United fans for celebration gesture

Chris Smith
Almada addressed some sensitive topics on Thursday.
Almada addressed some sensitive topics on Thursday. / Fran Santiago/GettyImages

Thiago Almada addressed the media for the first time on Thursday following his transfer to Atlanta United from Velez Sarsfield.

The $16m move is the most expensive incoming transfer in MLS history, placing him above fellow Argentines and ex-Atlanta United stars Ezequiel Barco and Pity Martinez in the top three. But the finances involved in the deal were arguably the least noteworthy details about it.

Atlanta United had originally started negotiations with Velez in the summer of 2021, but it's taken this long to complete the deal. Almada was implicated in a sexual assault allegation in his native Argentina. Rather than pull out of the deal, Atlanta United negotiated an exclusive purchase option with Velez, allowed the legal process to play out, and performed their own extensive background checks.

The 20-year-old was eventually cleared without charge or arrest, allowing the transfer to take place. Earlier this week, club president Darren Eales and technical director Carlos Bocanegra held a press conference explaining their due diligence process and how they were satisfied that Almada was the right player to bring to the club.

But it wasn't just Almada's legal case that left some fans hesitant to embrace him as an Atlanta United player right away. There is also the matter of a gesture he made while celebrating a goal for Velez in September 2021, posted to the club's official Instagram page.

Eales had previously stated Almada had accepted responsibility and been 'contrite' about the matter. Though he couldn't discuss the legal case, the player himself came right out and addressed the matter of his celebration on Thursday in his opening statement.

"I understand you may have questions about the investigation but I just hope you can understand that out of respect for those involved, I won't be able to give much information," Almada said via a translator.

"Second, I just want to say about the goal celebration that I did at Velez, I want to apologize. I know that it's unacceptable. I've spoken with Carlos and Darren. I know what it means to represent Atlanta, I'm very happy to be here and just want to give my best to the club."

Questioned again about the goal celebration, Almada responded: "Yes, as I said, I spoke with Carlos and Darren and I understand that it's unacceptable. I want to take advantage of this time to again apologize to all the fans."

Eales said on Wednesday: "He's a young player. He has to develop on the pitch but he's also got to understand and be fully committed to developing off the pitch in terms of understanding that the United States is different to Argentina. The expectation at Atlanta United with our fanbase is a higher one.

"He's fully aware of that and we feel he's a young player that, both on and off the pitch, is going to develop and become a better player and a better person."