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2024 NYCFC Player Preview: Maxi Moralez

The 36-year-old playmaker is a club legend. But how much of an impact will he have in 2024?

NYCFC playmaker Maxi Moralez in 2024 preseason training | Courtesy
Name: Maxi Moralez
Position: Attacking Midfielder, Playmaker
Age: 36
Key Stat: 36 – see above

Is Maxi Moralez the best player in the history of New York City FC?

Unlike David Villa, he never won the Landon Donavan MVP Award for Major League Soccer. And he doesn't have the name recognition – or trophy case – of Frank Lampard or Andrea Pirlo.

But when Moralez joined NYCFC in 2017 he transformed how the club played soccer, turning a disorganized squad with flashes of brilliance into a creative, possession-based side that was easy on the eyes. He was at the center of New York City's title run, the No. 10 who pulled the strings all the way to the winner's podium — winning the MLS Cup was a collective effort, but nobody worked harder than Moralez.

Comings and goings

His return to NYCFC in last year's summer transfer window was a little bit of a head-scratcher. He left New York City in the offseason to rejoin Racing Club, his boyhood club in Argentina, as a part of an unprecedented exodus of talent. But then he returned to NYCFC in August, making four starts before being sidelined for the rest of the season with an ACL injury. (He's expected to return to play in May.)

The club surely could have used him in the first 24 matches of 2023, when a young and imbalanced squad struggled to create — or even hold onto the ball. The stats back it up: Per FotMob, Moralez is in the 95th percentile for chances created, and in the 98th percentile for touches.

But his reunion with NYCFC didn't feel quite right. Yes, the club needed him — they were desperate to win games and sneak into the postseason, and his playmaking abilities were never fully replaced by the return of midfielders Santiago Rodíguez, who's more of an attacker than a trickster, or the now-departed Richy Ledezma, who never fulfilled his potential.

But parachuting Moralez into an underachieving squad under the weighty expectations of getting instant results felt like it was asking too much of the No. 10 — whose No. 10 jersey was now worn by Rodríguez.

The injury put an end to the hope of a midfield revival centered around Moralez's creativity. And it puts into question what his impact will be in 2024.

A deep-lying playmaker in 2024?

The truth is, Moralez was stepping back from the No 10 role back in 2022, when he started to function more as a deep-lying playmaker. The MLS season's steamy summer is brutal on aging legs, a Moralez had notably lost a step as the year went on.

Head coach Nick Cushing's decision to move Moralez to the back of the midfield bore fruit. Moralez could still impact the game and control the pace of play, but he didn't have to run as much or as hard.

Will he resume that role once he completes rehabilitation? The back of the midfield is suddenly a busy place with the return of James Sands, who was on loan to Rangers FC in 2022, and the signing of Andrés Perea, who brings an Alex Ring-like physicality to the game.

It's hard to see Moralez starting in place of either Sands or Perea. But it's easy to see him coming in as a late sub for a 30-minute masterclass in midfield craftiness.

Likewise, Moralez is unlikely to start over Rodríguez or on the attacking side of things, but he could provide some magic off the bench.

Age and experience

How Moralez performs on the field is only part of the impact he'll make on the club this year. He'll also bring the wisdom of 20 years of professional experience playing for Racing, Velez Sarsfield, Atalanta BC, Club León, and NYCFC.

This is a squad in need of the kind of veteran locker room leadership that Moralez can provide — and that was sorely lacking last year. Last year's team was the youngest in club history, and this year's will be even younger: A legit Starting XI could feature three teenagers in Julián Fernández (19), Mitja Ilenič (19), and Augusín Ojeda (19). That could increase to four if trade rumors are to be believed, and striker Jovan Mijatović (18) joins the team.

The 36-year-old isn't just the oldest player on the roster, he's the only one over the age of 30 — the second-oldest is the 28-year-old Thiago Martins. The young guns that are going carry New York City through the 34-game season need the calming presence of somebody who was playing professional top-flight soccer before they were born.

It helps when that somebody can still cut around his marker and curl the perfect pass.