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Where's Magno?

The 21-year-old Designated Player has been an unused sub since returning from injury at the start of May. We look at why Talles Magno is on the bench — and why nobody seems to mind.

Talles Magno returned to the First Team lineup at the start of May but has yet to play | Courtesy

It's funny how we learn to live with inconveniences. The door that sticks, the AC that rattles, the phone app that freezes: These are the things we accommodate rather than fix.

Add to that category the Designated Player who doesn't play.

Last Friday, Talles Magno was in the matchday squad for the eighth time this season. For the seventh time, he didn't get off the bench. New York City FC head coach Nick Cushing consistently uses subs, and brings on about four per game on average. In this particular game, Cushing threw everything at a match in which a New York City reduced to 10 players came oh-so-close to beating the odds and getting a result against a well-drilled Columbus Crew. When Cushing decided to go for it, he didn't call on Talles Magno.

The decision to leave Talles Magno on the bench surprised exactly nobody. That's because the 21-year-old Designated Player, a left winger who is considered to be among one of the 10 most-valuable players in Major League Soccer who appeared on the league's "22 Under 22" list two years in a row, and who commands the fourth-highest salary at this club, is now a marginal presence in this New York City squad.

Talles Magno MLS Record

2024* 1 0 6 0 0
2023 30 20 1908 4 3
2022 34 32 2604 7 10
2021 15 5 444 2 0

*Through 17 games

Game after game, the DP remains on the bench. It doesn't matter if the score is tight and the team needs a burst of energy, or if a match has to be closed out and requires a calm presence to run down the clock, or if a tactical switch calls for fresh legs, Talles Magno sits.

It's not just that he doesn't get playing time, although there is that – he logged a total of just six minutes in the eight games he was available this season – it's that nobody expects him to be called onto the field. There are no "#MagnoIn" banners in the bleachers, and few (if any?) questions about him in the postgame press conferences. Nobody seems too concerned about when he will play again.

Pundits and die-hard fans love nothing more than to second-guess a coach's lineup and substitute decisions. Still, the almost complete absence of Talles Magno elicits a collective shrug from the soccerball intelligentsia, and the followers and supporters of New York City.

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Remembering 2023

Talles Magno was a central figure last year, when the New York City attack was built around shifting the DP from his preferred position on the left wing into a more central role as a striker. The club had done it before, when they transformed Taty Castellanos from a midfielder who liked to roam on the left into the most dangerous striker in the league. Besides, Talles Magno's numbers in 2022 (seven goals and 10 assists in 32 appearances) measure up to what Castellanos logged in 2019 (11 goals and seven assists in 30 appearances), the year before he was made the focal point of the NYCFC attack. You can understand the reasoning behind the decision.

But it didn't work. Talles Magno was a target man who didn't look comfortable receiving the ball, a finisher who couldn't find his clinical touch, a dribbler who took one touch too many. It didn't help that New York City were in the midst of a painful rebuild, and didn't provide much support in the midfield when compared to previous years. But he didn't do much with the chances that were created. Talles Magno started 20 matches in all competitions in 2023, and appeared in another ten, and he scored just four goals. That worked out to one goal every 477 minutes. At the end of the season, he was ranked an abysmal #100 in MLS for non-penalty goals per Opta.

It might be hard to believe, but that stat flatters the winger striker winger. Last year, Talles Magno scored just one goal in his final 21 appearances in league games. That was despite New York City's improved form at the end of the year, when new signings helped the team start winning.

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Still, the purpose of an experiment is to test a hypothesis. In this case, that hypothesis was: If Talles Magno is given a larger role and asked to take on more responsibility, then he will help lift a struggling team.

The answer was no, he couldn't. Which brings us to this season.

Malachi Jones, Agustín Ojeda, and Hannes Wolf

Talles Magno's sole appearance on the field this year came on opening day, when he was subbed on in the 84th minute of an eventual 1-0 loss to Charlotte FC on February 24. He played well in the little time he had on the field: Ten touches, two shots, one on target. It was a good showing, especially given that the team managed just three shots on target the entire game.

But he seemingly aggravated a lingering problem with his left knee, and spent all of March and April on the injury list. Talles Magno returned to the lineup card on May 5, when New York City hosted Colorado Rapids at Citi Field.

In that game, New York City fell behind in the 16th minute to a Colorado who scored against the run of play. It was a winnable game that NYCFC couldn't figure out how to win, and Cushing tried to regain control by bringing on fresh attackers in Malachi Jones, Alonso Martínez, and Julían Fernández. Talles Magno was left on the bench.

In the following game, Talles Magno traveled with the team when they faced Toronto FC. Jones was given his first Major League Start at left wing that night, and scored his first professional goal. When Cushing decided to bring on fresh legs, he took off Jones and called on 19-year-old Agustín Ojeda. Again, Talles Magno was left on the bench.

A few days later, when New York City were up by one goal over Philadelphia Union and looking to win their first game at Subaru Park since 2021, Talles Magno was left on the bench.

And so on. By all appearances, Talles Magno has slipped far down the depth chart, and looks to be the fourth-choice left winger.

Maybe it's because Cushing's system is now starting to bear fruit, and a winger with a flair for dribbling – and returning from a knee injury – doesn't fit that cleanly into a team that looks to open the opposition with passing sequences, and that immediately applies pressure when out of possession. Talles Magno is a highly technical player who can be beautiful to watch, but was never known for his ability to recover the ball or for his defensive actions, and ranks in the 49th percentile among wingers according to FotMob.

Or maybe it's because a left wing without Talles Magno is now a consistently dangerous and productive part of the New York City attack. They don't need him.

Last Friday, Ojeda got the start on the left, scored, then was replaced by Jones. In the 5-1 blowout of San Jose Earthquakes on May 31, Hannes Wolf got the start, scored, and then shifted to the right to make way for Jones. In the tense 0-1 win over New England on May 25, Ojeda again got the start, and was replaced by Jones. In the cathartic 2-0 win over the New York Red Bulls on May 18, Jones got the start and provided an assist to Wolf, who was on the right.

For those of you keeping count, that works out to the three players on the left wing combining for two goals and one assist in four games. All of them contribute to that tally.

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Is there room for one more? Maybe Talles Magno's chance might come tonight, in the away game against LA Galaxy. Or it might come on Saturday, when the team travel to Nashville. Cushing has shown he believes in rotating this squad, so we just might see Talles Magno's return to the field shortly.

But what does it mean when the DP who just last year was the face of the team in Apple TV's ad campaigns is now looking for minutes behind Wolf, Ojeda, and Jones?

Remember, Wolf's flexibility allows him to play on the right, Ojeda is a 19-year-old new to the club, and Jones is a 20-year-old first-round pick from the MLS SuperDraft who most expected to spend the year developing with NYCFC II: You'd think the two-time "22 Under 22" honoree could at least time-share the position. But the fact is, Talles Magno isn't being pushed to the side by a force of nature, a player so dominant that he's an automatic choice to the Starting XI. He's getting benched in favor of a pool of players whose quality, growth, and ability to flourish in the team's system make them easy choices on gameday.

Last year, New York City built what turned out to be a fairly stilted attack around Talles Magno, and struggled to score. This year, a fluid and flexible attack is finding their groove — and discovering there's no room for Talles Magno.


Of course, there's a tinfoil-hat answer to the question of why Talles Magno isn't playing: The DP is on his way to another club, and New York City don't want to aggravate an injury that could delay or derail the transfer.

In January, the winger was linked to Bologna FC 1909 in Serie A. MLS trade oracle Tom Bogert later reported in The Athletic that the club wanted Talles Magno on a loan last summer, "but NYCFC were only interested in a straight sale."

Is the third offer the charm? Bologna are headed to the Champions League for the first time since 1964/65 after a surprise fifth-place finish in the 2023/24 season — and after Italy's strong performances in Europe gave Serie A's coefficient a boost, which gave the league an additional spot in the competition. Bologna will need to get busy in the transfer market if they plan to advance in the tournament.

European glory could be a draw for Talles Magno, who was never really supposed to come to MLS, or spend too long here after he arrived. In an epic 2021 piece for The Athletic, Sam Stejskal details how relegation, COVID, and a closed transfer window sent an 18-year-old Talles Magno to New York City instead of one of the European heavyweights that scouted the prospect.

The transfer rumors surrounding Talles Magno remain just that: Rumors. But they're resurfacing in interesting places. Just a few weeks ago, Bogert once again raised the possibility of Talles Magno leaving New York City. "With all the options NYCFC has in attack, perhaps the best outcome for all parties would be a move abroad," Bogert wrote. If Bologna courted Talles Magno last summer, and again in January, it's easy to imagine they might send one last fax to New York City sporting director David Lee.

It might be too much to suggest that the club are sitting the DP in order to keep him safe and sound until the right offer comes through. It's more likely that Cushing doesn't want to disrupt the chemistry of a team of players who are finding a way to score goals, and who are improving with every match.

But if a transfer is announced, nobody will be surprised. Just as nobody will be surprised if Talles Magno remains on the bench in tonight's game, and Saturday's game, and the game after that.

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