Will Moralez Make a Difference for NYCFC?

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by Christian Araos

For about 30 minutes Saturday night, Maxi Moralez showed how he can fit into New York City FC’s attack. Then David Villa decided to slap an opponent, was ejected and left the club with few opportunities on offense. Moralez, the new designated player made a good first impression even for fans unfamiliar with him.

Moralez is a talented attacking midfielder who had successful spells in Argentina and in Italy’s Serie A. Yet NYCFC on its website still had to get a British freelancer to explain the type of player Moralez is. That is a contrast from the team’s first three designated players, all of whom appeared in multiple World Cups and on teams that won the UEFA Champions League. Moralez has one senior cap with Argentina. He might be the right fit, but for a team as rich as NYCFC, it’s fair to ask why not aim higher?

Moralez has drawn comparisons to Sebastian Giovinco for his agility, technical ability and diminutive stature. Except Giovinco has played in the European Championships and Confederations Cup for his countr,y and Toronto did not have to explain who Giovinco is. His career started with a spectacular media introduction and his career has matched that hype. Moralez’ arrival was greeted with a news release and a hashtag.

Some of this has to do with Coach Patrick Vieira’s aversion to media events. That is his prerogative. Neither should the self-contained roll out of Moralez’ signing in which his first interview, his arrival and the team’s immediate reaction were all covered exclusively on the team’s website. First-hand encounters will have to wait until the team returns from Tucson, Ariz.

MLS has said for years that a designated player is not only supposed to be a star player but a central figure off the field. NYCFC’s first three D.P.s epitomized this concept despite their advanced age, and each took on ambassadorial and commercial roles advancing the team and the league. Moralez, 30, could begin to do that once he’s introduced to a city that doesn’t really know him.

None of this would be a big deal if this wasn’t the New York metropolitan area, a market deemed so important to MLS that it spent a decade trying to get a second team on the ground. Only Los Angeles is held in such regard and both its current and future team consider the player’s prominence within the city when pursuing D.P.s. The Galaxy’s Giovani Dos Santos is the best example. Likewise, LAFC has been linked with Javier Hernández. About 3.8 million locals would get to see their heroes.

That Dos Santos and Hernández are both members of the Mexican national team with experience playing in multiple leagues overseas also shows how the idea of transcendent star power is not exclusive to players from one region or who have played in one league. They, along with City’s first three D.P.s, were at least full internationals. The same can be said for some of the players NYCFC has been linked to this season: Darwin Quintero, Samir Nasri and Sami Khedira.

Moralez will eventually, officially put on the No. 10 jersey for NYCFC — once the club parts ways with the person wearing it right now. He’ll fill the playmaker role and allow Villa to stay forward more often. If all goes to plan, Moralez should be near the top of the rankings for key passes and assists. Add a handful of goals and it will go a long in way replacing Frank Lampard’s 2016 output. We will have to see if it’s enough to become a star in New York.

It’s tough to predict, but it’s equally hard figuring out NYCFC’s place in New York City, politically (read: stadium games) and in cultivating young fans.

How Moralez helps there or in solidifying fans’ allegiance once Pirlo and Villa leave is going to depend results on the field. This is the risk of signing a designated player that many people are not familiar with. If Moralez becomes a prominent figure in New York then it bodes well for NYCFC.