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Former MLS star Miguel Almirón is excited to return to America with Newcastle United

The Premier League's exhibition games in Philadelphia in July will be Almiron's first time back in the U.S. since he joined Newcastle from Atlanta United for the biggest transfer fee in MLS history.

Miguel Almirón celebrates one of Newcastle United's wins in the Premier League this season.
Miguel Almirón celebrates one of Newcastle United's wins in the Premier League this season.Read moreStu Forster / Getty Images

If you’re a longtime follower of Major League Soccer, you might find it hard to believe that it’s already been six years since Miguel Almirón joined Atlanta United in the team’s expansion season.

The Paraguayan playmaker quickly became a fan favorite, not just in Atlanta but across the league. He delivered 22 goals and 21 assists in 70 games, helped the Five Stripes win MLS Cup in 2018, and built a charismatic partnership with striker Josef Martínez.

After two seasons in Atlanta, Almirón made a dream move to England’s Newcastle United in January 2019. The $27 million transfer fee he commanded is still an MLS record.

It took him a while to settle into life on one of the world’s biggest soccer stages, but he has done so now. This season, the 29-year-old has 11 goals and three assists in 37 games, and Newcastle is flying high in third place in the Premier League (albeit fueled by controversial owners from Saudi Arabia). If the Magpies hold on, it would be their best finish in 20 years – a span including two relegations and many near-misses.

Almirón hasn’t returned to American shores since he left Atlanta. This summer, he will do so for the first time for the Premier League’s July exhibition series that starts in Philadelphia. Newcastle plays Aston Villa at Lincoln Financial Field on July 23 in a doubleheader with Fulham vs. Brentford, and Chelsea plays Brighton the night before.

Three days later, Newcastle plays Chelsea in Atlanta as the prime-time nightcap of a doubleheader with Brentford vs. Brighton. Big crowds are expected at all the tour stops, but especially that doubleheader and the games here.

» READ MORE: The English Premier League’s summer tour will kick off in Philadelphia

“I’m very excited to return, especially to Atlanta,” Almirón said in an interview this past week. “What I had in Atlanta was very special, and it’s something that I’ll never forget. So I’m very excited to go back.”

He still hears from Atlanta fans on social media, and he said he’s happy to. Though Almirón doesn’t know yet if he’ll have free time to get around town, he hopes to see some friends he still has in the city.

“It gave them such joy for us to be crowned champions, and that’s the best part of this job, of what I do,” he said. “And for me, it’s very special. You know, I’ve lived in England for three years, but I still keep getting messages from the fans in Atlanta, and it’s very nice.”

And he still keeps in touch with Martínez, who stayed in Atlanta until a tumultuous move to Inter Miami this past winter. Though Almirón spoke for this interview with help from a translator, he needed no help when asked about Martínez. His eyes lit up right away.

“Yeah, yeah,” he said with a big smile. “Siempre [always], siempre.”

» READ MORE: Premier League Summer Series in Philadelphia tickets are on sale now

But Atlanta wasn’t the first place where Almirón played in front of raucous crowds. He began his career with Cerro Porteño, one of Paraguay’s biggest clubs, then moved to Argentina’s Lanús — a team that has sent many players to MLS, including Portland Timbers stars Diego Valeri and Sebastián Blanco.

Newcastle has long been renowned for having some of England’s most passionate fans. Its 52,300-seat stadium, St. James’ Park, has long been one of the country’s largest, and the Geordie faithful (as Newcastle residents are known) always pack it.

They know how to suffer, too, in a way Philadelphians can appreciate. Newcastle hasn’t won a trophy since 1969, and reached a cup final this season for the first time since 1999. (Naturally, it lost that game, the EFL Cup final, to Manchester United.)

“From the first minute that I arrived here, I felt it,” he said “It’s such a big club, and the fan base is amazing here. ... Every time that we play here, it helps having them, and we’re just very thankful for them.”

So how does the Toon Army compare with the other fan bases Almirón has entertained?

“Honestly, I think it’s Newcastle,” at the top, he said. “Because a lot of times, it’s raining, it’s snowing, and I look in the stands and I see that there’s people with no shirts on. And they’re somehow keeping warm.”

That, too, might sound familiar around here.

» READ MORE: Brenden Aaronson, Zack Steffen and Auston Trusty lead Union academy alums starring in England