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Is Maxi Moralez’s Distribution a Problem?

Breaking down the Argentine’s very lateral-based passing, and the potential issues with it.

MLS: New York City FC at Houston Dynamo Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

When Maxi Moralez was signed, he was replacing a player who had won the Premier League three times, the FA Cup four times, and scored over 200 Premier League goals. That player was Frank Lampard who despite his numerous accomplishments wasn’t beloved by the New York City FC faithful because of the way his transfer was handled. Moralez, in contrast, came with little fanfare. Not only were their arrivals different, so too are their playing styles. Moralez’s strength is lateral passing and moving the ball side to side, while Lampard was better at driving the ball aggressively to the box and picking out the final killer ball or taking the shot himself. Both styles are useful, but in this article I am going to highlight the area where Moralez is failing NYCFC and what they can do to fix it.

To most effectively evaluate Moralez, I compared him against the other no. 10/attacking midfielders/creative forces in MLS. The other players I selected were Miguel Almiron, Federico Higuain, Sacha Kljestan, Diego Fagundez, Borek Dockal, Carlos Vela, Mauro Díaz, Luciano Acosta, Tomas Martinez, Diego Valeri, Albert Rusnak, Nico Lodeiro, Kaku, and Victor Vazquez. All the aforementioned players have played over 400 minutes, which is enough of a sample size to examine their passing, goals, and assists. The data was drawn from American Soccer Analysis. All stats are updated as of 5/27/18.

The inferences in this article can give us an idea of how players passing helps their teams and where they could in prove. It doesn’t, however, automatically mean that the conclusions drawn will define these players forever.

Attacking

With regard to attacking, Moralez seemingly has the edge because he has put up big numbers. But, he has the most minutes played out of all these players when the data was updated. So, he has more opportunities to rack up statistics. That advantage that is nullified by converting the statistics to per 96. I examined six statistics Shots, Goals, xG, Key Passes, Assists, and xA.

The charts above highlight a potential issue in Maxi’s output. He is expected to be the creative force on one of the top teams in MLS, but he isn’t producing it, compared to his peers. Also, he is currently outperforming his xG, which could indicate a potential future drop in goal scoring.

Passing

Maxi Moralez has one of the lowest average vertical distance of his passes. What that means is his passes aren’t traveling far forward towards the other team’s goal. Instead, they are moving either slightly forward, behind, or to the side on average. This issue is most prevalent in the middle third.

As illustrated in the table, Moralez has the lowest average pass vertical distance in the middle third. While this could theoretically be a tactical difference, I am hesitant to believe that idea because LAFC and Columbus Crew both play out the back, but their playmakers Higuain and Vela are playing the ball on average to spots higher up the field.

Another issue is the number of passes Moralez is playing every game in the middle third. This combined with the fact that the vertical distance his passes travel assumes that he plays a lot of short passes back and forth. In the middle third, Moralez’s passes travel about 20.8, compared to an average of 19.4 and a median of 20. But, it is important to keep in mind that most of the other players attempt significantly less passes than him. While these short passes have a purpose, ideally you would like to see him spraying it to the wings. This strategy of short passing quickly back to the center backs and Alex Ring will fail against teams that run the high press or who are defensively resolute/parking the bus. Against the Portland Timbers and New York Red Bulls, Moralez struggled because the type of passing needed to break down those teams wasn’t in his toolbag. It is almost like NYCFC need a different kind of no. 10 for certain kinds of games.

Final Thoughts

To be fair to Maxi, he has had to deal with formation changes where his role is different. That can be very tough for a player especially when they also play with the philosophy of playing out of the back. In addition, I believe he still is a very good player who adds value to this team. But, there are some situations where they could use a different type of player, a more direct no. 10.

Luckily for NYCFC, they have some players that can be more direct. Tommy McNamara has tried to fill Maxi’s role but has looked slightly out of place. Maybe — when he is in that situation — allowing him to play a more free role would help him succeed. Another in house option is Gio Reyna. While he probably will move abroad as soon as he possibly can, he is the type of player that they need to break down defenses. He may not be ready for the first team yet, but at least four of his peers (George Bello, Gilbert Fuentes, Gianluca Busio, and Ray Serrano) are getting minutes in the USL level. NYCFC could take steps to get him pro minutes so that he can be ready to replace or challenge Moralez in the future.

If NYCFC decide to look outside their first team and academy, they have the money left over from the Jack Harrison to do so. But only time will tell if that will happen.