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2024 NYCFC Player Preview: Malachi Jones

The 20-year-old SuperDraft pick made a strong impression at the Coachella Valley Invitational: It's not a question of if he'll make his MLS debut, but when.

NYCFC forward Malachi Jones (right) in 2024 preseason training | Courtesy
Name: Malachi Jones
Age: 20
Position: Left Wing
Key Stat: 0.94 – the number of goal involvements per appearance last year at Lipscomb University

Malachi Jones is fun to watch.

We caught glimpses of him in the preseason matches at the Coachella Valley Invitational, where the 20-year-old glided around the left side of the New York City FC attack. He's a natural ball-carrier, and a confident player. He knows how to get open and receive the ball, then he moves in long arcs that carry him through traffic and out into open space.

Jones looks like he wants the ball at his feet, and he wants to see what he can do to pull the opposition out of position and create pockets of space in the attacking third. In some ways, he seems more of a midfielder than a forward, someone who not just progresses the ball, but who looks to control the pace of the game.

But the fact remains that we know little about Jones, who was signed to his first professional contract by NYCFC on January 22, other than we're likely to see him suit up for the Senior Team at some point this year.

Collegiate success doesn't guarantee Senior Team Minutes

Jones was selected eighth overall in the 2024 MLS SuperDraft, and could turn out to be one of the best things to come from NYCFC's poor 2023 season. After all, it was the club's dismal 21st-place finish that entitled them to a Top 10 pick.

The pundits expected Jones to be an early selection, just not by NYCFC. But sporting director David Lee picked the Lipscomb University forward on December 19, 2023, and signed him to a Senior Team contract a little more than one month later.

It's no secret that the team had trouble scoring last year, managing a club-low 35 goals in 34 league matches. It's safe to say that Lee is looking for goal-scorers and goal-creators.

Jones can do both. The forward scored five goals and added 12 assists in 18 appearances for Lipscomb last year, which works out to 0.94 goal involvements per game. When you look at his total playing time, that number climbs to 1.09 goal involvements per 90 minutes. Basically, Jones added one goal in every game he played.

But collegiate success doesn't guarantee Senior Team Minutes. Although Lipscomb's soccer program might be among the best in the country, Jones will need to time to adapt to the pace and physicality of MLS. He'll also need to adjust to becoming a full-time athlete with a 12-month training schedule.

Not if, but when

One person who has faith that Jones will make the transition from collegiate prospect to MLS player is NYCFC head coach Nick Cushing. "Malachi is a First Team player," Cushing said during a press conference on February 14, after YCFC played the Portland Timbers in a preseason friendly. "That's why he got the start in the Portland game, because he's proved that his work rate, his physical ability, his enthusiasm, and his desire to be within our team and in the starting eleven is there."

But he's not going to have to earn his spot on a Matchday roster that includes Talles Magno and Hannes Wolf on the left, and Santiago Rodríguez and Maxi Moralez (after he returns from injury) as attacking midfielders.

"He just needs to learn the game," Cushing said of Jones at the press conference. "This level is new for him. I think the challenge for Malachi will be that everyone can see the incredibly competitive position that he is in." In other words, he will need to prove himself within a squad that looks substantially more potent after recent transfers. "It's going to be hard for one of the wingers to nail down a position, but that's what we want," Cushing said. "Competition for places.”

The smart money is on Jones not just making his MLS debut this year, but making a contribution to the team. It's just a matter of when.