New York City FC interim head coach Nick Cushing sounded measured in his pregame press conference when he reported that Maxime Chanot, Maxi Moralez, and Talles Magno are doubtful for Sunday’s grudge rematch against Philadelphia Union in the Eastern Conference Finals of the 2022 MLS Cup Playoffs.
While none of the players have been ruled out, Cushing noted that there is just one more training session before they need to make a final assessment. We likely won’t know who will be in the game day squad until the lineup is released about one hour before game time.
This will be disappointing news to NYCFC fans who watched the team turn around the season in recent weeks. It's no coincidence that New York City’s current six-game winning streak began once the squad returned to health after an injury-plagued summer.
The loss of Maxime Chanot could force Cushing to abandon the back-three formation that transformed NYCFC into the most in-form team in MLS. Since switching to a back three, New York City are 6-0-0 in all competitions, with 14 goals scored and just two goals allowed.
Chanot’s role in the back three could be filled by Tayvon Gray, who is expected to return to the squad after injuring his foot in the Decision Day win over Atlanta United. Another option is asking Alex Callens to slide into the center, and let defender Malte Amundsen could fill in on the right. But Chanot has been instrumental in NYCFC’s recent run of games, and his experience and leadership can’t be replaced.
Likewise, Moralez’s role in the midfield has been essential to New York City’s winning streak. The veteran playmaker was the best player on the field in NYCFC’s 3-0 domination of Inter Miami CF, and his sixth-minute goal against Montréal forced the hosts to chase a game they were expected to control.
Cushing has other midfield options in Nicolás Acevedo, Justin Haak, Keaton Parks, and Santiago Rodríguez, but the team will miss Moralez’s ability to control the pace of the game.
Talles Magno will likely be replaced by Héber, who has two goals in two playoff games. The Brazilians have been sharing the striker role, but the loss of Talles Magno will give Cushing less tactical flexibility should he want to change the shape of the team.
Of course, there could be another angle to the release of this news. The pregame press conference is one of the few opportunities that a head coach has to disseminate information – or disinformation – to the public and to their counterpart on the other team. The head coach is not under oath in the press conference, and there is no obligation to fully disclose which players will be available: Sometimes injured players who won’t make it into the lineup are listed as questionable, and fit players who will likely play are listed as doubtful. It doesn’t hurt to keep the other side guessing.
The fact is, we won’t know the status of Chanot, Moralez, or Talles Magno until Sunday night.