Position: Central Midfielder
2021 League Games: 27 games, 20 starts, 1783 minutes played
2021 Postseason: 4 games, 4 starts, 419 minutes played
What went right in 2021:
When New York City FC signed Alfredo Morales just ten days before that start of the 2021 season, it seemed like a smart move. A defensive-minded central midfielder who spent his career playing for hard-fighting teams that were almost always in a relegation battle in the German Bundesliga, Morales added depth to a midfield that already had Nicolás Acevedo, Keaton Parks, Maxi Moralez, and James Sands. Brought to NYCFC for a reported $100,000 fee, it also seemed like good business.
Looking back on the 2021 season we can see that the signing was nothing less than brilliant. Morales started 20 games in the regular season and appeared in another seven, balancing a midfield that was easing in Acevedo and the newly-signed Santiago Rodríguez. Then the playoffs arrived, and player availability forced Ronny Deila to piece together a starting lineup that went on to win the MLS Cup: Sands and Morales formed a pivot that protected the back and linked up with Moralez and Rodríguez, and Tayvon Gray and Malte Amundsen on the wings. Brought to NYCFC to add depth, Morales started every playoff game in the postseason, playing 419 out of a possible 420 minutes. He even converted his penalty against New England Revolution, beating Matt Turner to open the shootout—not too shabby for a player who didn't score a goal all season.
What to improve in 2022:
Speaking of that penalty, Morales was asked to step up because NYCFC didn't have many crackerjack goal-scorers on the field. Rodríguez was subbed off, and Taty Castellanos was given a red card for a poor challenge—safe to say the Revolution tied the game and forced a penalty because NYCFC was a man down.
You could also say that Morales put Castellanos in the position of making that careless challenge.
Just two minutes after Castellanos put NYCFC in the lead with a lashing header, Morales gallops up the left into the attacking third, is stripped of the ball, then takes another seven strides past the play—he’s now NYCFC’s most advanced player, and New England are in transition and looking at an open midfield. Castellanos breaks up the play, gets a second yellow, and the Revolution are back in the game. D’oh!
You can see it unfold in the video here:
Put bluntly, that run of play could have cost NYCFC the game. Morales should’ve been playing keep-away in the center of the field, not expressing his inner Raheem Sterling—and forcing Castellanos to channel his inner Antonio Rüdiger. Now that Morales has taken another trip around the sun, the 31-year-old needs to be even more mindful of his vulnerabilities. If he continues to play smart, he could help guide the team to more silverware.
What to expect in 2022:
The best NYCFC can hope for in 2022 is 99.99% of what Morales delivered in 2021: Experience, on-field intelligence, more minutes. He might see fewer starts in the regular season as manager Ronny Deila likely eases Nicolás Acevedo into the Starting XI, but a deep run into the Scotiabank CONCACAF Champions League will make the quality Morales possesses even more important to a team that might be playing an added two games every month.