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Goodbye to Maxi Moralez, NYCFC’s best-ever player

Here’s an attempt to describe what made the departing midfielder so great during his six seasons in New York.

Peace out.
Courtesy NYCFC.com

The rumors have finally been confirmed: Maxi Moralez has left New York City FC after six seasons, returning to Racing Club in his native Argentina.

News of his contract option for 2023 being exercised seemed to at first suggest he’d have one last ride with NYCFC, but that is now clearly not to be the case.

Fans of New York City FC are growing all too accustomed to the process of saying goodbye to key players from the formidable squad that lifted the 2021 MLS Cup. Maxi Moralez, however, represents a loss that extends beyond simple nostalgia for winning the championship. In his six seasons in New York City, he played his way into legendary status with the young club, and has every right to be considered NYCFC’s best-ever player.

His greatest-ever case hinges on his consistency, his creativity, and his character. Maxi put in six seasons of steady brilliance, playing a key role in transforming NYCFC from a rough-edged expansion side into one of the top teams in MLS.

Moralez’s drive to win didn’t seem to waver, and his brilliance in creating goals for his teammates and himself also never wavered during his six seasons in New York City. He exceeded every expectation from his arrival through to his departure, quickly erasing any doubts that might have accompanied his signing as the Designated Player who also happened to be taking Frank Lampard’s vacated roster spot.

The numbers he put up throughout his NYCFC tenure might not jump off the stat sheet in the more obvious ways they do for 50+ goal scorers like David Villa or Taty Castellanos. Yet those two strikers were successful in large part thanks to the creative genius of Maxi Moralez, who should go down as the modern assist king of MLS.

He along with long-serving players like Sean Johnson, Maxime Chanot, and Alexander Callens laid the foundation for all that NYCFC accomplished in 2021 and 2022. There were other great players around contributing greatly during those trophy-winning seasons of 2021 and 2022, but they ultimately don’t happen without Maxi Moralez. In fact, I think what separates him at the very top of any ranking of NYCFC players is what he accomplished in the MLS Cup Playoffs. His postseason history with the club is what best encapsulates his greatness, though it was not always smooth sailing.

He was a part of multiple consecutive years of bitter playoff disappointments at the start of his NYCFC career, with the flameout against Toronto FC in the 2019 Eastern Conference Semifinal spoiling what was easily his best individual season in MLS, and what was the team’s best season in its existence up to that point. In the 2020 playoffs, his long-running struggles from the penalty spot reared their head in that surreal PK shootout loss in Orlando.

Despite those personal and collective struggles, Maxi always maintained a knack for scoring key playoff goals. He ends his time in NYC as the club’s leading postseason goalscorer, and his final string of postseason performances in 2022 is a testament to his longevity. He almost singlehandedly (along with Santi Rodriguez, who also might be gone come 2023) carried the club to a second straight MLS Cup at age 35 while clearly physically slowing down compared to his earlier seasons with the team.

His performance in the 2021 postseason perfectly sums up all that made Maxi the best to ever pull on that Bronx Blue shirt. In the Eastern Conference Semifinals, he buried the demons of multiple penalty shootout failures by blasting his kick past Matt Turner to help NYCFC knock off the Supporters Shield holders and advance to the club’s first-ever Eastern Conference Final.

In that Eastern Final, it was Moralez who pulled NYCFC back level a mere two minutes after they stunningly went behind to the Covid-depleted Philadelphia Union. In the subsequent MLS Cup in dreary Portland, Maxi proved his mettle to the umpteenth degree.

The midfielder clearly picked up an injury around the 30th minute of the match, yet continued to push his body to the limit in search of that elusive first major trophy with NYCFC. He assisted on Castellanos’s opening goal (thank you, Butterfingers Steve Clark), played at full-power for 120 minutes, and nailed an even higher-stakes penalty in the shootout. It was the stuff of heroes, the kind of thing that separates great players from legends who are talked about year after year by fans who watched it happen.

The importance of those converted penalty kicks against New England and Portland was clearly visible in Maxi’s reaction to each make. You could almost see and feel the catharsis and the lifting of a weight off his back, emotional responses that were no doubt shared by NYCFC fans who had watched with frustration as he and the team suffered season-ending setbacks in the years prior.

It’s disappointing that fans don’t get one more chance to say goodbye to a player who was so central to the growth of NYCFC since his arrival, one who embraced the city, the fans, and his teammates. At least we were left with a final flurry of great performances to close out Maxi’s tenure—a tenure that should be remembered and hailed by NYCFC supporters for generations to come.