Alexander Callens certainly has gotten his kicks partnering with Maxime Chanot on the NYC FC backline. (Amdam Hunger/USA TODAY Sports)
By Michael Lewis
PURCHASE, N.Y. — Maxime Chanot speaks French and English, Alexander Callens Spanish and is learning the latter.
Despite that language barrier, the two players have formed a promising partnership as center backs in the middle of the New York City FC backline.
Once considered a joke in the league, City’s defense has become much more difficult to crack this Major League Soccer season.
In fact, NYC FC has allowed only three goals in four matches this year. In contrast, the team allowed three goals in its 2016 opening 4-3 win over the Chicago Fire and 57 all of last year. City ranked 17th out of 20 teams in goals allowed.
A big reason for the change why has been the play of the two players. Chanot said the partnership has grown because they played together during the preseason. Last year the Luxembourg international defender said he had problems integrating with the team because joined the club in July.
“We work hard tactically. We both know how we have to defend,” Chanot said after training at SUNY-Purchase Wednesday about Callens, a Peruvian. “We don’t need to talk to much on the pitch. I think football is not about language. It is about body position.
“I don’t speak Spanish, he doesn’t speak French. We try to speak both English but in football you don’t have to speak too much. You have to see the body of your body. Sometimes it is better than talking.”
Head coach Patrick Vieira felt both players have fit into the team as his philosophy is to build-up from the back and it all starts with the backline. Chanot, 27, is a left-footed player, while Callens, 24, is right-footed.
“I think it is always good to have one good left-footed player on the left, one right footed on the right-hand side,” Vieira said. “It gives more balance to the team.”
Of course, their main responsibility is to make sure goalkeeper Sean Johnson doesn’t get shell-shocked from too many difficult saves or hurting his back taking the ball out of the net.
“When you look at the game, we concede less than last year,” Vieira said. “We look quite solid defensively. There’s still, of course, some part of the game we need to improve but all overall I’m very pleased.”
A member of the Peruvian national team pool, Callens has adapted to NYC FC quite quickly.
“He’s a really strong center back,” Vieira said. “He’s really comfortable on the ball. He’s really good when he’s stepped in. He’s making the right decisions. Technically he’s good. Of course, with Maxime on the right-hand side and Sean as the goalkeeper, I think we look really solid.”
Callens has impressed so much that he was voted the Etihad player of the month for March.
“Me and Maxime understand each other and are becoming more synchronized every time,” he told NYC FC.Com.
“I’m feeling really great, I’m feeling a lot more calm. I feel like the team supports me and wants the best from me. Our goals are clear, we know what we want. The important thing is to go out and work hard.
“The best thing is growing with the game and little by little I’ll get better with training.”
Chanot and Callens could very well partner again when City visits D.C. United Saturday. They backstopped a defense that blanked United in the first encounter between the teams, a 4-0 triumph at Yankee Stadium March 12.
“D.C. United are going to give their all,” Callens said. “We have to be really focused because they’re going to take advantage of any mistake.”