Maxi Moralez celebrates his chip shot goal. (Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports)
By Michael Lewis
BRONX, N.Y. — He shifts to his left. He then suddenly moves to his right. Then, he does something utterly unpredictable to astonish everyone who is watching.
No, we aren’t talking about a dodgy politician in this crazy election season.
We’re talking about a dodgy midfielder, who, when he is at his best, can be among the best if not, the best in the league.
Maxi Moralez left his calling card in New York City FC’s 3-1 knockout-round win over the Philadelphia Union Wednesday night, setting up two goals and scoring a brilliant one himself at Yankee Stadium.
“The performance tonight was amazing,” NYCFC head coach Domenec Torrent said. “Maxi was fantastic. Not only because he was able to score, the performance was very well.”
Given he is all of 5-3 and 115 lbs. — it might seem that Moralez’s name — Maxi, is an oxymoron. But that is only a shortened version of his full name — Maximiliano.
“He’s one of these guys, you watch the tape, you want your guys to get closer to him, be tighter to him, make him play square, make him play backwards,” Philly head coach Jim Curtin said. “But he’s so clever, and shifty and low to ground on the ball. He can just turn out on things and play that killer through ball. He’s a handful.
“He’s confident right now. He has a way of moving on the field that he gets open when you’re in possession of the ball. As soon as they break in transition, we didn’t do a good enough job locating him. A top player, has had an incredible season for them. Yeah, you talk about a guy thst can really change the game, change a team. Gives coaches nightmares trying to deal with his mobility all over the field. His balance and center of gravity, it was just too much for us tonight.”
His smaller stature just might be his greatest gift. He moves so swiftly in tight quarters that he can turn a mundane moment into a lethal scoring opportunity. He accomplished that several times for himself and teammates.
He created City’s opening goal with a through ball that David Villa deflected ever-so deftly to Ismael Tajouri-Shradi, who drove a bullet past goalkeeper Andre Blake. His square pass to Villa set up the City captain with a 26th-minute strike before chipping the Jamaican international keeper, considered one of the best in the league, to boost NYCFC to a 3-0 advantage in the 78th minute.
“He’s really an important player for us,” Villa said. “For all the season he doesn’t miss a lot of games. After the injury, he is healthy again and he played very well today. He’s a key man for us because with him moving into the No. 10 position, it has many, many solutions for the changing from the defending to an attacking side. He scored today, key passes again.”
Moralez also had the audacity to try to chip Blake again in the waning minutes, but his attempt was just off its mark. Well, no one’s perfect.
He has scored nine goals this season, a tremendous amount for a playmaker who is much more accustomed to setting up goals than filling the net.
Not that he is complaining.
“Assists is something that is always something that has come very easily to me,” Moralez said. “I want to improve every year. That’s one of my goals this year and next year and the following. It’s all coming from knowing MLS and knowing the league. I try to keep my best going into the final matches of the season.”
He will get another opportunity to dazzle the Yankee Stadium crowd against Atlanta United this Sunday.