The 21-year-old designated player looks like a lock to make the league’s 22 Under 22 list for the second year in a row when the final announcement will be made public later this month. A few weeks ago, Transfermarkt designated him the fifth-most valuable player in MLS, placing him in the ranks of Lionel Messi, Thiago Almada, and Facundo Torres. He is the only player named to both lists, which makes him an elite among the elite: Talles Magno is a class by himself.
But is he? The praise heaped on the winger might leave most NYCFC fans scratching their heads: Talles Magno, MLS superstar? The flashy dribbler who is easily contained by most defenses? The forward who last scored a goal on April 22? The player who has fallen so far down the depth chart he hasn’t made the Starting XI in the last six MLS league matches, and played just 55 minutes of game time during the month of August, when NYCFC had nine games in all competitions?
Talk about cognitive dissonance. To go by his performances, you can make the argument that Talles Magno is far from the best player on an NYCFC that currently sit in 13th place in the Eastern Conference, never mind one of the best players in MLS. And yet to go by his potential, scouts and journalists seem to feel that his star burns brightest on this team.
All of this makes us wonder, is Talles Magno good?
The numbers game
First, let’s look at Talles Magno’s basic stats. The forward isn’t a pure striker, but his role is to generate goals, and it’s fair to judge his performances based on his contributions to the attack.
By those standards, Talles Magno is having a rough year, with just two goals and two assists in 1755 minutes played. That works out to a poor 0.21 goal involvements per 90 minutes. To put it another way, Talles Magno directly contributes about one goal every five games.
Talles Magno NYCFC Attacking Stats, All Comps
It’s a dramatic decline from 2022, when he had 0.71 goal involvements per 90, logging 22 goals and assists in 45 appearances. Much is made about the strike partnership that developed between Talles Magno and Taty Castellanos before Castellanos left to join Girona FC run July, but it wasn’t as productive as you might think.
A natural left winger, Talles Magno’s addition to the lineup forced Castellanos to move from his preferred position on the left to take on a more central role. It didn’t work at first: Castellanos failed to score in his first five MLS games that year – he finally found the back of the net on Sunday, April 17, when NYCFC defeated Real Salt Lake 6-0.
Statistically, Talles Magno performed well alongside Castellanos, but then he flourished without him.
Talles Magno’s eight goals and eight assists with Castellanos work out to 0.61 goal involvements per 90, when he was taking an average of 2.48 shots every game. After Castellanos left, Talles Magno’s goal involvements jumped to 0.99 per 90, when he was taking an average of 3.97 shots every game.
In other words, Talles Magno’s peak performance occurred without Castellanos, and under head coach Nick Cushing.
Talles Magno 2022 Stats, All Comps
W/ Taty Castellanos
W/O Taty Castellanos
Look at the table and you see Castellanos-level numbers, and you can understand why the NYCFC front office thought they could build an attack around Talles Magno.
Franchise player or bench warmer?
It didn’t work out that way. Talles Magno’s numbers fell off a cliff this season: Not only is the 21-year-old failing to find the goal, he’s not getting minutes. The designated player last made the Starting XI way back on July 5, when NYCFC and Charlotte FC drew 1-1 at Citi Field. To jar your memory, that match was a disatsterclass of poor finishing: NYCFC dominated possession, created chances, and took 21 shots, but only five of those were on target. New York City’s lone goal came from defender Braian Cufré, whose deflected shot found the back of the net in the 81st minute.
Talles Magno didn’t make the lineup card the following game, and some thought the player might leave in the summer transfer window. He remained with the club, but he has yet to make the Starting XI.
Even more pointedly, Talles Magno spent the last two games wearing a penny on the sideline as an unused sub. When striker Mounsef Bakrar injured his hamstring against the Vancouver Whitecaps with the score tied 1-1, Cushing passed over Talles Magno, and instead brought on Richy Ledezma, who has yet to score in MLS — and who has just one goal playing first-division soccer in his entire career.
But Ledezma’s five assists in 1085 minutes played give him roughly double Talles Magno’s goal involvements per 90 minutes. Statistically, NYCFC had a better chance of winning that game with Ledezma than with Talles Magno.
At that moment, Talles Magno’s role on the team was made clear to all: The elite dribbler who was anointed to lead NYCFC’s attack – and who represented the team at the Apple TV media day at the start of the season – was now just a bench warmer.
The vibes in the stands
It’s no secret that NYCFC are suffering this season. The team didn’t bring in the players during the primary transfer window they needed to compete in the Eastern Conference, and now the club is on track to miss the playoffs for the first time in eight years. There are rumors of tensions between players and the coaching staff. The vibes are not strong.
Given the fragility of this NYCFC, it could be unfair to expect Talles Magno to put up strong performances. He can’t be expected to shoulder the team.
Or is it the other way around, and this team are fragile because Talles Magno hasn’t performed? We have yet to see Talles Magno step up.
An attack of Talles Magno, Santiago Rodríguez, and Gabriel Pereira (before he left for Al-Rayyan in Qatar) sitting on top of a midfield of Keaton Parks and James Sands could have cooked. There should have been goals. But it didn’t, and there weren’t.
Is it coaching? Is it confidence? Are there tensions within the team? The on-field “flare-up” between Talles Magno and Maxime Chanot back in April was merely the most public example of the many testy moments between the winger and other NYCFC players.
Is it because of distractions? Talles Magno has 437,000 followers on Instagram as of the publication of this article — which puts him in another MLS Top 10, according to Planet Futbol. (Note that the list was complied before Lionel Messi, Sergio Busquets, and Jordi Alba joined Inter Miami over the summer.) This is where Talles Magno chronicles his games and workouts — as well as his fits and social life.
To be honest, it’s exactly what you’d expect of a 21-year-old millionaire-athlete living in New York City. Rather, it’s what you expect of a successful millionaire-athlete living in New York City. Appearances are everything.
But it still doesn’t answer our original question: Is Talles Magno good?
The fact is that he went from an above-average player in 2022 whose performances grew stronger as the season progressed and who looked to be on an upward trajectory, to a below-average player in 2023 who, by every metric, is regressing on the field. You can see it in his radar plots.
Talles Magno 2022 Radar Plot
Talles Magno 2023 Radar Plot
Maybe the MLS pundits and Transfermarkt wonks are looking at different metrics. Or maybe they’re watching the highlight reels, and not paying close attention to every performance in every game.
That’s what we do here at Hudson River Blue, where Talles Magno has the second-lowest cumulative Player Ratings on NYCFC since we started publishing those numbers on Matchday 2. His 4.9 for the season is trailed only by Matías Pellegrini’s 4.8. True, the Player Ratings aren’t at all rigorous, but they are determined by you, the HRB readers, and they’re a good measure of the feels in the stands.
According to you, the 22 Under 22 wunderkind with the globally impressive valuation also regularly puts up the least-convincing performances on the NYCFC squad. The gap between what the journalists and scouts write, and what the everyday fans feel, has never been so wide.
We’ll see what the rest of the season holds for Talles Magno. Will he make the Starting XI for the Hudson River Derby on Saturday, and help lead NYCFC to a win over the New Jersey Red Bulls and keep the team’s playoff hopes alive? Or will it be another subpar performance in a disappointing year?
We’ll hope for the first option, but we’re prepared for the second.