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25 Perfect Minutes: A look at Maxi Moralez's return to New York City FC

In 16 minutes of regulation time – plus 9 minutes of stoppage time – Maxi Moralez reminded us how he can completely transform how NYCFC play.

The Little Magician was dearly-missed. | Courtesy of

The crowd at Yankee Soccer Stadium rose to their feet last Friday night and gave a standing ovation to New York City FC midfielder Maxi Moralez when he came onto the pitch in the 74th minute of the game. The match with the San Jose Earthquakes was even at 1-1 when he was subbed on, but Moralez's arrival transformed how NYCFC played, and his team ended the night with a 5-1 rout.

It was the first appearance for Moralez since September 2023, when he suffered a ruptured right ACL injury in New York City's 1-1 draw with the Vancouver Whitecaps. Recovering from an ACL injury is not an easy feat for any athlete. But for 37-year-old Moralez, the rehabilitation process and eventual return to fitness were even more difficult.

Despite this, Moralez picked up right where he left off, and took on the role of playmaker. He distributed the ball, played dangerous passes, and created time and space for himself and his teammates. Moralez even added to his major stats and notched an assist after being on the field for not even 15 minutes.

100% pass accuracy

But other numbers from that night tell a more complete story of the midfielder's brilliance. Moralez finished not just with an assist but with 27 touches, two passes into the final third, three chances created, and completion of all 22 of his passes for an accuracy rate of 100%. Incredibly, he accomplished that in 16 minutes of regulation time plus 8 minutes of stoppage time.

To put those figures in context, not one of San Jose's attacking midfielders completed more than 22 passes in the entire game. Cristian Espinoza (22 passes, 71%), Hernan Lopez (18 passes, 56%), and Amahl Pellegrino (10 passes, 77%) labored to accomplish in 90 minutes plus stoppage time what Moralez made look easy in his brief appearance.

Just as important, Moralez wasn't just playing tiki-taka to keep the ball. His passes sliced apart San Jose, finding teammates Alonso Martínez, Malachi Jones, and Andres Perea in open space. The passes rattled the San Jose defense and goalkeeper William Yarbrough, and completely changed the tone of the game.

Courtesy g+ GameFlow

Moralez picks up where he left off

Before Moralez was subbed on, NYCFC was struggling to create clear-cut scoring opportunities; six minutes after the midfielder came on for Hannes Wolf, Santiago Rodríguez scored what proved to be the game-winner. Although Moralez wasn't directly involved in that goal, his arrival changed the tempo.

Moralez created his first chance in the 78th minute, picking out Andrés Perea on the edge of the box. Perea beat one defender and ultimately missed the target, but that run of play was a foreshadowing of what was to come for the remainder of the game.


Approximately one minute later, Moralez played a role in setting up the game-winner from Rodríguez. Moralez played a ball into the box to Alonso Martínez, who couldn't control his touch and was dispossessed. Perea tried to control the rebound, but he was tackled and the ball fell to Rodríguez, who found the back of the net. Without Moralez's initial pass to Martínez, the chance for Rodríguez would not have been possible.


Moralez then set up two chances for Malachi Jones. With the first chance, Moralez played a through-ball for Jones, who had to take a quick shot right at Yarbrough.


Changing the tempo

A San Jose defense that had done just enough to contain New York City for more than 80 minutes of regulation time suddenly looked completely outclassed.

Martínez would go on to score three goals in 10 minutes, making it the fastest hat trick in New York City history and the first by a substitute. The first goal came in the 85th minute when Moralez provided the assist. Despite being closed down by two San Jose defenders, Moralez squared a pass to Martínez, who buried his shot past Yarbrough.

The composure is worth noting. Moralez moves the ball along the right side of the penalty box without any real haste, glances over his shoulder to see Martínez start his run, and then threads a ball that cuts through three San Jose defenders to arrive at the feet of the striker. The ball was low and fast, but not too fast. It was paced so that Martínez could easily control it with his left foot to play it out to his right, then take a lashing shot that crammed in off the right post. And it was unstoppable.

It was Moralez's only assist of the night, but his play was instrumental in setting the stage for Martinez's subsequent two goals.

In stoppage time, Moralez dribbled into space at the top of San Jose's box and had options to pass to his left or right. Moralez passed to his left to Jones, who was quickly closed down and shot almost instantly. Moralez had Rodríguez on his right but chose to pass to Jones due to him being in more space and a better position to shoot.


Martínez would go on to score one minute later and four minutes after that. NYCFC's offense was firing on all cylinders, and Moralez was at the forefront of it, playing the No 10 role. Per FBRef, he had an expected assisted goal (xAG) of 0.5, and two of his 22 passes ultimately led to goals. New York City was passing quickly, accurately, and confidently, which could not have been possible without Moralez's magic.

The Little Magician is back

Moralez showed exactly what New York City is missing. He flashed signs of the player he was in 2018 and 2019, making smart and threatening passes that led to chances. Three chances created, one assist, 22 out of 22 passes completed, and two passes into the final third in Moralez's first appearance in over a year is not bad at all.

Due to Moralez's age and the fact that he is coming off an ACL injury, it is likely Moralez will not be a starter and will instead be used as a second-half substitute. With Moralez and Rodríguez both able to play the No 10, Nick Cushing pushed Rodríguez to the right wing and slotted Moralez right in the middle. This allows Rodríguez to get forward in dangerous positions, knowing that Moralez will be able to pick him out.

The rest of the NYCFC players could say the same. They know what Moralez is capable of and will be able to get played through on goal or picked out from a cross. Players such as Matt Freese and James Sands have mentioned how, despite not being attackers, they see the difference Moralez instantly makes on New York City's offense.

Moralez played for 16 minutes of regulation plus 9 minutes of stoppage time, totaling 25 minutes. In the final 10 minutes of the game, he earned an assist and contributed to NYCFC's four goals. He will be key for New York City as they continue to climb the Eastern Conference standings.