New York City FC head coach Dome Torrent said he noticed the difference in Maxime Chanot at the start of preseason.
And now, through NYCFC’s first 17 games of the season, the center back is in the conversation for MLS Defender of the Year.
“The mentality was much better,” Torrent said. “He started the preseason much better than last year when we arrived here. I have a good feeling with him, he has a good feeling with me. It’s about that. I have more confidence with our team, not just Chanot. But he improved 100 percent because he wants to improve.”
Torrent said the Luxembourg international is among a handful of players, including Maxi Moralez, Taty Castellanos, Ismael Tajouri-Shradi and James Sands to raise their level from 2018.
Part of the reason, Torrent said, is Chanot’s attitude, his willingness to never settle.
“He’s not an arrogant player,” Torrent said. “He’s a humble player and when you speak with him, he’s interested in improving and improving. You have to be motivated to improve and he will."
There’s also more of a commitment to defend as a team. Instead of switching off from time to time, as was the case a year ago, NYCFC have done well to consistently defend and are committed to winning the ball back as soon as they lose it.
“When that happens, we are more organized when you compare to last year and that maybe is the reason why some players play much better than last year,” Torrent said. “It’s about the quality of these players, it’s about, it’s my opinion, our team plays much better, we play more organized than last year. When we have the ball we have the control 60-70 percent of the time and we play much better.”’
Fellow center back Sebastien Ibeagha said family issues midway through the season last year “took some of [Chanot’s] focus away.”
That’s not been an issue this year.
“He’s reached another level of focus,” Ibeagha said. “This year, he’s been locked in from the get-go and everyone sees it. He’s determined to be the best.”
Chanot said that was a difficult situation, which involved flights to Europe “every weekend or every two weekends.” But the club’s support was touching and a big reason why he re-signed to a multi-year contract in December.
“The support the club gave me during a hard time made me think I’m in right club for me and my family,” Chanot said. “I’m so thankful for that. It’s why maybe every single time I [step n the field] I remember what the club did for me and I want to give back on the pitch.”
Chanot, who doesn’t like to speak about himself, admitted he felt in good form two years ago before a sports hernia injury limited him to 19 starts. Last year, Chanot was at the center of NYCFC’s unbeaten run of seven games out of the gate before his family troubles arose.
“I don’t think I’m better than I was, but I haven’t had an injury or family issue and thank God everything is doing great and I’m obviously happy because I’m playing every game and I feel very comfortable on this team,” Chanot said. “It’s my team. I’ve been here four years, I know every single player well, I know how the team is working. I’m very comfortable and proud to play for this club.”
Chanot isn’t about individual accolades and said it’s not his place to say whether he’s the best defender in MLS or not. Goalkeeper Sean Johnson, who is close friends with Chanot, has no doubt. And he believes that’s the case since Chanot arrived from KV Kortrijk midway through the 2016 season.
He’s seen up close and personal at training and on game days.
It’s just now that the rest of the league maybe is noticing.
“Maxime is a very, very important piece to the success this club has in past seasons and in the present season. He’s always played at a high level for us,” Johnson said. “Internally we’ve always been pleased with Maxime. You can always count on him being a presence in the backline, he’s a voice, he’s commanding, dominant in the air. He’s everything you want in a center back. He’s a world-class player and he definitely deserves that recognition.”
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