It is a stunning turn of events. Earlier this month, the diminutive Argentine terminated his contract with Racing Club to pave the way for a move back to the Big Apple. Just eight months after leaving for his native Argentina, Moralez returns to a club that is significantly different from the one he left, and that desperately needs his leadership and quality as NYCFC will need to win at least six of their remaining ten games if they are to make the playoffs.
What a 36-year-old Argentine can add to the league
For the seasoned NYCFC fan, Maxi Moralez needs no introduction. For the rest of you, the 36-year-old was a key player in the run to the MLS Cup in 2021, and is arguably the club’s greatest-ever player. Between 2017 and 2022, Moralez featured in 194 matches for the club, scoring 35 goals and recording 58 assists.
He got his start at Racing in 2005, before transferring to Vélez Sársfieled in 2009. He made the leap to Italy when he joined Atalanta in 2011, where he was the playmaker for the biggest little club in Serie A. Moralez flourished in Italy, then moved to Liga MX giants León in 2016 before joining NYCFC in 2017.
He was a key starter on the Argentine national team that won the FIFA 2007 U-20 World Cup, playing alongside Sergio Agüero and Angel di Maria. His four goals in that tournament were the second-most on the squad, trailing only the six scored by Agüero. While his teammates went on to feature regularly for the senior national team, Moralez made just one start for the La Albiceleste, when he appeared in a friendly in 2011.
Starter? Or impact sub?
Though Moralez has entered the twilight of his career, the Argentine still possesses the ability to make a significant impact for NYCFC this season. As fans have become painfully aware, the squad lacks a true creative spark in attacking midfield. And with the departure of Gabi Pereira to Al Raayan, any creative spark the team had was diminished even further.
The 36-year-old Moralez isn’t the only notable Argentine No 10 to join the MLS in 2023. Lionel Messi’s instant impact on the Inter Miami squad is nothing short of incredible: His seven goals and one assist in just four matches have floored soccer fans worldwide.
However, though Moralez may be the same age, hail from the same nation, and play the same position as Messi, NYCFC must understand that his impact will not be as drastic.
Expect Maxi to make significant appearances off the bench as the season winds down. The Argentine’s leadership and locker room presence are the main reasons this move makes sense. With the addition of 19-year-old winger Julián Fernández, Cushing will look to establish chemistry between an attacking line that will feature Mounsef Bakrar, Alonso Martínez, and Santiago Rodriguez. More importantly, they will need to gel as quickly as possible if they are to carry NYCFC into the playoffs.
Nevertheless, Moralez’s inherent ability to create space and chances for his teammates is an invaluable skill, one which NYCFC has been lacking in midfield for some time. Anticipate Moralez to make significant cameos during the second half of matches, in an effort to put games to bed, or salvage all-important points.
A diamond-like shape in attack of Moralez, Rodriguez, Fernández or Martínez, and Bakrar, late on, could be the difference between an MLS Cup Playoff run, and a quiet September.
The best No 10 in MLS history?
There’s an argument to be made that Moralez is the best No 10 in MLS history. Moralez provided immense creativity for NYCFC in the midfield. The Argentine was instrumental to nearly every NYCFC attack, emphasized by his 73 big chances created across six seasons in New York.
Standing at just 5’ 3″, Moralez is often shortest player on the pitch at any given time, yet the Argentine’s height rarely got in the way of his ability. Moralez possessed one of the strongest work ethics in the squad during his previous tenure in New York and served as one of the marquee leaders in an eventual MLS Cup Championship locker room.
He was even named the 2019 New York City FC Fans’ Player of the Year.