NYCFC head coach Ronny Deila decided to have Maxi Moralez take a PK in the shootout despite his midfielder’s awful recent history. (FrontRowSoccer.com Photo)

By Michael Lewis

FrontRowSoccer.com Editor

I’ll try not to mince my words here.

I think Ronny Deila did a fantastic job guiding New York City FC down the stretch of an unusual Major League Soccer regular season.

His team had to overcome a slow start, injuries to a pair of tough injuries – to Heber and James Sands – during the year. He also saw a key offensive threat – Alexandru Mitrita – join a Saudi Arabian club on loan.

Then came Saturday’s MLS Cup Playoffs match against Orlando City SC Saturday.

When push came to shove for the shootout to decide the 1-1 draw, Deila decided to deploy star midfielder Maxi Moralez in the tie-breaker. And what made it worse was that Moralez led off for the visiting side. That is a spot usually reserved for the best penalty taker on the team, or one of the best.

When I saw Moralez walking up to the penalty spot, I feared NYCFC could be doomed in the shootout. He didn’t convert his attempt, hitting the crossbar. City was forced to chase the rest of the tie-breaker and you know what transpired, from the Orlando goalkeeping fiasco to the visiting side being eliminated early in the postseason for the fifth year in a row.

Quite frankly, Deila blundered. He made a major mistake by using Moralez.

Maxi’s recent history putting in PKs has been abysmal.

In 2019, Moralez converted only four of eight attempts. The conversion rate is usually around 75-80 percent. Fifty percent? To me, that’s radioactive. In other words, stay away from that player at all costs. Because Deila didn’t, it helped cost NYCFC the game and a chance to move on in the playoffs.

Adding to Moralez’s PK problems, he missed one during stoppage time in the 5-3 win over AD San Carlos in the first leg of the Concacaf Champions League Round of 16 series Feb. 20. Goalkeeper Patrick Pemberton made a diving shot on his shot. Mitrita slotted home the rebound for the final goal of the match.

During NYCFC media day March 5, I asked Deila about Moralez possibility taking more penalties.

“I don’t know what’s done before,” he said. “It’s something I decide, of course, who’s going to take the penalties.

“Maxi, he is a very important player for us. He’s a match winner. He has my trust in these situations. But of course, he has the pressure as well to score goals and he has to practice on it to get it right. But I’m sure the next one he will put in a goal.”

As we all know, that wasn’t the case Saturday.

Speaking of the Champions League, NYCFC still has an opportunity to win that crown. The club has to finish its 2020 quarterfinal series with Tigres UANL in Orlando on either Dec. 15 or 16. Tigres won the first leg on the road. Here’s an intriguing scenario let’s say that series needs PKs to decide matters. Would Deila go to Moralez yet another time? It’s a scary thought.

Despite battling injuries this season, Moralez is still one of the league’s premier players when he is healthy. Moralez enjoyed a stellar 2019 season, recording seven goals and 20 assists in 29 matches, becoming only the third player in league history to crack the 20-assist barrier. He joined Carlos Valderrama and Sacha Kljestan in that exclusive club.

Moralez can do many things well. Converting penalty kicks on a consistent basis isn’t one of them.

Hopefully, Deila stays away from his midfielder on future occasions for the sake of the team.