Major League Soccer did not make Miguel Almiron. He was already worth an eight-figure transfer fee when he arrived as one of the cornerstones of Atlanta United's standard-setting arrival in 2017.
What the league was able to do for the Paraguayan playmaker, though, is take his already-soaring stock and keep it heading in a direction that eventually saw Almiron break transfer records on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean.
Almiron's imminent $27 million transfer to Newcastle United will shatter the record for a transfer fee paid for an MLS player, a record Alphonso Davies held for just two months after his $22 million move to Bayern Munich. Almiron's move completes a two-year run that saw him dominate the league with his speedy runs, impeccable passing and ability to generate his own chances when he wasn't setting up his teammates.
He plays the game with an infectious energy that, coupled with his trademark smile, made him a player Atlanta United fans fell in love with, and a player they had to know wouldn't be around for long.
By completing a two-year stint in MLS that went as close to perfect as anyone could have hoped, Almiron became the poster child for the league's shift away from signing mostly aging superstars and instead targeting high-priced young talent. Sure, MLS still signs big names at the tail end of their careers, like Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Wayne Rooney, but Almiron's time in MLS, and his lucrative departure, are a blueprint more and more MLS teams will start to follow after seeing how well it worked for Atlanta United.
The long-term success of that change in philosophy was always going to depend on the ability to take those young talents and keep their development heading in the right direction.
Developing young talent in MLS would not only show prospective buyers that players who do well in North America can go on to do well in tougher leagues, but also convince future international prospects that the league is the perfect springboard for a move to Europe.
There was a time when high-priced youngsters wouldn't consider MLS, but those days appear to be over and Almiron's transfer will ensure perceptions of the league will continue to change.
It's one thing for MLS teams to be willing to invest millions into young talent, but it would have been much tougher to attract those high-level prospects if Almiron's career had stagnated, or if his winter move to Newcastle had fallen apart.
Now with Almiron gone, the focus will turn to Ezequiel Barco, another high-priced teenager at Atlanta United who struggled through his first season in the league. Both Barco and $20 million signing Gonzalo 'Pity' Martinez will look to fill the void left by Almiron, while also trying to continue the Atlanta United trend of high-priced South Americans proving themselves worth the investment.
Almiron leaves MLS without an MVP trophy to his name, but it's hard to argue against the idea that he was the best player in the league during his two-year stint. Josef Martinez broke the league's single-season goal record in 2018, but it was Almiron who was truly the engine of Atlanta United's vaunted attack. His success could have easily been written off by MLS skeptics as the product of a superior player dominating an inferior league, but what European scouts are seeing more and more is a league that has improved considerably in the past five years, a growth that has helped convince foreign teams to go shopping in the MLS talent pool far more than ever before.
That change hasn't come without its own set of issues, namely more instances of foreign teams trying to pry away top MLS talent at a bargain price. In January alone, rumors have swirled around FC Barcelona's interest in Carlos Vela and Club America's pursuit of New York Red Bulls star Kaku. As good as it is to have more interest in MLS players, the league also can't afford to be pushed around and have foreign clubs prying away the best players in MLS for anything below market value.
That's another reason why the Almiron transfer is so significant. Atlanta United president Darren Eales raised plenty of eyebrows when he stated that he believed Almrion was worth $30 million. That figure sounded wildly ambitious and unrealistic at the time, but Atlanta United fought to secure the price it felt was justified, even as the club faced the pressure that came with knowing it had to sell Almiron or risk a messy roster situation with four designated players, one more than the league maximum of three.
Almiron's transfer, coupled with the Davies move to Bayern Munich and Zack Steffen's $10 million transfer to Manchester City, has shown just how much has changed for MLS. Eight-figure transfers were once unheard of for MLS players, with Jozy Altidore's 2007 transfer to Villarreal the notable exception. This winter alone has generated three and could yield a fourth if Club America decides to make a serious push for Kaku after having an initial offer rejected by the Red Bulls.
Almiron is far from the only young player to see his game sharpened, and stock bolstered, by his time in MLS. Venezuelan midfielder Yangel Herrera spent two seasons with New York City FC on loan from Manchester City and has now joined La Liga side Huesca, while Tyler Adams has hit the ground running with RB Leipzig after two seasons as a starter for the Red Bulls.
The success in Europe of players like Almrion, Herrera, Adams and Davies will determine if prices for top young MLS talent continue to rise, with Almiron sure to face the most scrutiny. His days in MLS may be behind him, but Almiron will continue to be a standard bearer for MLS even after he trades in the red and black of Atlanta United for the black and white stripes of Newcastle United.