I will admit, when I first laid witness to Maxi Moralez, one of the best attacking midfielders in the history of MLS, drop into the back of the midfield after kickoff, I had an audible reaction. With his return from injury, I was expecting to see him in his usual No 10 position - but, not even a quarter of an hour into the match and I was thrilled with what I saw on the pitch. Visibly, there was a new level of composure in the midfield as Maxi’s positioning and presence brought out a confident showing from all the players in the middle of the park. To see Maxi lay back and routinely pass the ball out wide to Gloster or Pereira filled me with delight. The accuracy and precision of his typical passing game were still on display, and lent to one of the best assists in the MLS this season. The range he brought helped ease the pressure on Thiago Martins and Alexander Callens in the back as play moved down the pitch.
As New York City FC moved to attack, Maxi never ventured too far into the opposition’s final third. He kept right behind the front line, which allowed him to act as the extra option for our attacking players. This brought out his playmaking best as he switched the field back and forth to force an attacking play on the opposite side of the pitch, keeping Columbus Crew pinned down in their half.
Even though he was a No 6, Maxi was still the conductor. He directed Gloster, Acevedo, and Parks as they applied the proper pressure to win the ball off Columbus and deny them opportunities. I was engrossed by his shouting and pointing, and I could see a wolf pack of four players hunting down and winning the ball off the opposition. Because of Maxi, defensive efforts started in the middle third rather than right outside NYCFC’s box. WHOSE BOX? NYCFC OR COLUMBUS? All stemming from the direction and knowledge of Maxi playing a deeper role.
There’s an adage: Nobody’s perfect, I gotta work it. Or is that a lyric? Either way, every performance has its flaws. Mixi might bring a level of calmness, but he can make mistakes. After an early yellow card in the 18th minute, I was stressed every time Maxi would go into a new challenge. I feared another misplaced challenge would see Maxi take an early walk down the tunnel. It certainly led to a more reserved defensive showing from Maxi. He had to keep his cool and not rush into a tackle. He also had to be careful about making tactical fouls.
While he still put up impressive defensive numbers (five interceptions across the match is not too shabby), the Argentinian could look a little too cute on the ball. Keeping possession for one beat too many led to moments when his pocket could have been picked, or he would be forced to do a risky pass. These were the times when, as a spectator, I found myself shaking my head. With a player like Maxi, I would assume that he would have the wherewithal to get the ball out of his feet and not be a liability in the back. No doubt this is something that can be worked out by Maxi. This is a new phase in his career, a new role that he will certainly play in matches to come.
To be honest, this new lineup is something I hope to see Ronny continue to employ as the season progresses. Not only does it allow for more squad rotation, but it also helps keep NYCFC more of a strategic enigma when they play against future oppositions. While it was a head-scratcher at first to see Maxi in the back, his positional flexibility will prove to be a useful tool for NYCFC as they push to retain the MLS Cup.