Position: Central Defender
2022 MLS Season: 29 matches, 0 goals, 2 secondary assists, 14 clean sheets, 2 own goals, 1 red card
Key Stat: Second player in MLS history to score an own goal and earn a red card in the same game
What went right in 2022:
Arriving as a Designated Player after an early career largely split between Brazil and Japan, Thiago Martins became a key part of what was a solid NYCFC defense for most of last season. NYCFC kept the second-most clean sheets in the league and were a decent enough seventh in goals conceded per match, with Martins front and center in defense for many of the team’s best stretches of the season. After a rocky initial transition from the J1 League that featured some subpar early performances, Martins went on to build solid chemistry with his fellow central defenders Alexander Callens and Maxime Chanot. That trio was especially dominant together once Nick Cushing made the late-season switch to his 3-4-3 formation. Individually, Martins chipped in two secondary assists (the pass before the assisting pass, if you will) and played a part in 14 of the team’s 15 clean sheets, turning in notably strong performances in the Campeones Cup win over Atlas and both of NYCFC’s Hudson River Derby victories.
What to improve:
Martins needs to look like the Designated Player he was signed to be and eradicate the big mistake from his game: Per fbref.com Martins led NYCFC’s outfield players in 2022 with three mistakes leading directly to an opponent’s shot. His most glaring individual errors included the dagger of a penalty he conceded away to Seattle in the CONCACAF Champions League Semifinals, and the aforementioned historically poor own goal-red card disasterclass he turned in against FC Cincinnati at Citi Field. Injuries also somewhat marred Martins’ first campaign with NYCFC, as he missed three weeks with an ankle injury suffered against Colorado in June, then suffered another scare seemingly with the same injury in late August. He at times appeared uncomfortable in possession and shaky in his distribution and decision-making with the ball at his feet.
What to expect in 2023:
Martins needs to bring consistency and solidity to what looks like will be a young and inexperienced NYCFC backline following the likely departures of Sean Johnson and Alexander Callens. That will mean avoiding the big individual errors that plagued his 2022. While his struggles were glaring at times, it must be said that his shakiest performances were largely concentrated in the early portion of the season when he was likely still adapting to life in a new league, country, and language — it didn’t help that he was thrown into both CONCACAF Champions League and MLS competition almost immediately upon arrival.
The departure of Alexander Callens, his most frequent partner in central defense, might be the first significant hurdle Martins needs to overcome in 2023. Maxime Chanot is 33 and is no longer the most durable of players, and after Chanot, the NYCFC depth chart at center back is remarkably fragile. Martins will be expected to shoulder more responsibility and will have to become even more reliable than he was in 2022, with the added challenge of trying to build a new NYCFC defensive foundation alongside younger players such as Luis Barraza, Tayvon Gray, Mitja Ilenič, Kevin O’Toole, Samuel Owusu, or whomever else may be asked to step up.