Maxi Moralez had a goal and an assist off the bench. (Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports)
By Michael Lewis
Even when he is far from 100 percent and can play barely more than half a game, Maxi Moralez still can make an impact.
Just ask Toronto FC, which watched the playmaking midfielder perform his magic in New York City FC’s stunning 3-1 triumph in the Round of 16 in the MLS Is Back Tournament Sunday night.
The 5-3, 115-lb. Argentine played only 54 minutes, but set up the second goal and tallied the third score at ESPN Wide World of Sports in Orlando, Fla.
“I think that he’s a very important player inside and outside the field,” Valentin Castellanos said of Moralez, who assisted on his goal in the 55th minute. “He has plenty of experience. He gives us a lot of ease. He also gives us his game. We all know his game. We know the quality he has, and we know everything he can give the team, of course, assists, goals, things like that. Some of those things, he showed those today. He is a player that gives us something that we enjoy very much.”
“We like to play together. We know each very well since last year. He’s just like a friend to me, basically.”
And public enemy No. 1 to every midfielder and goalkeeper in the league.
Moralez has been bothered by a quad injury in the tournament, which has limited him to a reserve role at best, but he certainly provided a boost for the team. He came on for Ismael Tajouri-Shradi in the 30th minute with City enjoying a 1-0 lead.
After setting up Tati, Moralez, off a counterattack, scored into an open net off a Heber feed in the 81st minute.
As well as he played, Moralez could not finish the game as he was replaced by Keaton Parks three minutes later.
Head coach Ronny Deila said the midfielder wasn’t ready to start quite yet.
“I think he’s getting closer and closer, but he was not 100 percent before the game and I don’t play players who are not 100 percent,” he said. So, when he is 100 percent, he is a very important player for us.”
Moralez certainly was important enough for NYCFC Sunday night.
“Today he came on and we had to take him off again because still he is not where he wants to be,” Deila said. “But every day we get more out of him. He even will be more fit and more ready in the next game.”
He will have plenty of rest as NYCFC will meet the winner of Tuesday’s Portland Timbers-FC Cincinnati Round of 16 game next Saturday night.