With Atlanta United forward Josef Martinez scoring goals at a pace never before seen in MLS, there's no doubt other players worthy of Landon Donovan MVP Award consideration are drawing less attention than they might normally.
One of them, says New York City FC winger Rodney Wallace, is midfield teammate Maxi Moralez.
“He’s still underrated in my eyes,” Wallace told MLSsoccer.com. “He doesn’t get as much buzz as other players, but he’s [maybe putting in] more work than a lot of the players who get the shine. For me, he’s a player who should be considered for MVP where he is right now and where we know he can take us. We have a lot of season left, and I know he’s not done. And we’re not done collectively.”
Moralez is on pace to double his offensive statistical production from his debut MLS campaign a year ago, with eight goals and 12 assists in 23 games so far. The 31-year-old Argentine is second in the league in assists behind Kaku of the New York Red Bulls.
Moralez credits being more acclimated to the league, to his surroundings and to his teammates for his growth in production.
“I think now knowing the league and competition more, I feel more comfortable, more calm, and play with much more freedom,” Moralez told MLSsoccer.com. “You also notice that the team is improving, and that all ties in together.”
Having Moralez on the field is “like having extra eyes and extra legs out there because he does so much work," Wallace said. "Not only with the ball, but not many people notice what he does off the ball, how smart he is, his pressure.”
Moralez also feels more comfortable in a leadership role in his second season, which has been crucial with star striker David Villa limited to 10 games because of a variety of injuries.
“I think that this year he just took it up a notch, to a whole different level, and it starts with his leadership,” Wallace said. “He sets the tempo of the game and he’s embraced that role of ‘OK, I’m going to be the man, you give me the ball and I’m going to make things happen.’ We follow him, we bought into what his role is and we’re all just fortunate to be able to play around him and be able to contribute to the big picture of the team.”
For midfield partner Alex Ring, there’s been no change in Moralez’s play year over year. The difference is only more statistical results.
“I think he played like this last year too, minus the amount of goals he scored already and the assists, but I think offensively he was as big a key as this year,” Ring told MLSsoccer.com. “I know why you guys push him now because he has the stats to back it up. But he played like this last year. I think he was fantastic.”
NYCFC boss Dome Torrent, who took over the side in midseason, said Moralez is an invaluable resource for a coach in his position because of how he leads and especially interacts with the club’s younger players. He said he leans on Moralez and speaks with him after every training session about how he wants NYCFC to play.
“Maxi, right now without David, is a key man for us,” Torrent said. “Maxi is very important for us because Maxi and David are the bosses. They have more experience than others and they are amazing players, but amazing people especially with the young players like [Valentin Castellanos], like Jesus [Medina]. It’s very important for us to have two players like David and Maxi.”
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