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NYCFC sign center back Thiago Martins from Yokohama F. Marinos

The 26-year-old dominated in the J1 League

Yokohama F.Marinos v Vissel Kobe - J.League Meiji Yasuda J1
Thiago Martins getting it done in Japan.
Photo by Etsuo Hara/Getty Images

New York City FC have a new center back.

Earlier this morning, the club announced it signed Thiago Martins, a 26-year old defender from Brazil, to a three-year contract with an option for 2026. Martins will be one of NYCFC’s Designated Players.

NYCFC report that Martins is already with the club in Cancun, and could be available for the first leg of the 2022 Scotiabank CONCACAF Champions League pending work permits.

The 6’ 1” defender will wear the number 5 for NYCFC.

It is the first significant signing this offseason by sporting director David “No Drama” Lee, and the first defender ever signed to a Designated Player slot by the club.

Tactical flexibility, defensive depth

Martins spent the last two years playing for J1 League side Yokohama F. Marinos, which finished the 2021 season in second place allowing 35 goals in 38 games. (Both Yokohama and NYCFC are owned by the City Football Group.) Martins came up through the youth system at Sociedade Esportiva Palmeiras, and Transfermarkt currently values the center back at $1.32 million.

Martins will likely step into a starting role, possibly pairing with Alexander Callens in place of the 32-year-old Maxime Chanot. First signed to NYCFC in the middle of the 2016 season, Chanot has been a mainstay of the first team but he looked leggy at times in 2021. While Chanot was an instrumental part of NYCFC’s title-winning season, the defensive line can’t afford to lose a step against MLS sides that are increasingly younger, quicker, and more technical.

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The signing will allow Chanot to provide much-needed depth to a backline depleted by the departures of Sebastien Ibeghea last August and James Sands in January.

Martins will also give manager Ronny Deila the tactical flexibility to start with three at the back, freeing Malte Amundsen and Tayvon Gray to bomb up and down the lines and concentrate on feeding the attack.

Table talk

NYCFC allowed just 36 goals in 2021, the lowest total for a full season in the history of the club. But the team also finished with just 51 points, the second-lowest total—trailing only the misshaped first-pancake-off-the-griddle 2015 season. NYCF ended the season in fourth place in the Eastern Conference, and eighth place overall. It was the second-worst full-season showing in the club’s short history.

Now that there’s a star above the NYCFC badge it’s easy to forget last year’s mid-season frustration, but for significant stretches the team’s results didn’t reflect the quality of play on the field.

In 2021, NYCFC tallied nine draws and 11 defeats. Of those defeats, nine were by one goal, and the remaining two losses were by just two goals, a 3-1 defeat at Nashville and a 2-0 loss at Chicago. The margin between NYCFC’s fourth-place Eastern Conference finish and a second-place seeding that would have given the team home-field advantage was just two goals; four goals and the team would have been in second place overall in MLS.

The year ended with NYCFC lifting the MLS Cup, but a signing that solidifies an already strong defense sets up the team to make a run at another title, and possibly win the Supporters Shield.

High expectations come with the territory: Welcome to New York, Thiago Martins.