Difference in style make NYCFC central defense pairing one of best in MLS

Maxime Chanot, Alexander Callens - New York City FC - Close up

ORANGEBURG, N.Y. — What makes the New York City FC duo of Maxime Chanot and Alex Callens arguably the best central defense pairing in Major League Soccer? 

It’s all about their differences, of which there are many.

Chanot is a Luxembourg international whose primary language is French, while Callens is Peruvian and speaks Spanish.

Chanot lives in Manhattan, while Callens prefers the suburban life in Westchester County.

And there are differences on the field, as well, where the left-footed Callens is more technical, a “modern defender,” as Chanot likes to say, while Chanot is the old-school, hard-nosed right-footed ball-winner.

“I think the characteristics of both of them are quite different,” NYCFC coach Patrick Vieira said. “I think one can be a bit more comfortable on the ball than the other one. The one can be more defender than the other one. I think they are filling well the weakness of each other and I think they are a good pair, one of the best pairs I would say in the league.”

And like a fine wine, the partnership blossomed over time. In the beginning, communication wasn’t easy — Chanot said he attempted that in Spanish — and there were a lot of conversations, both on the training grounds and in games.

But now, about a year and a half into it, Chanot said the two are so in sync that don’t need to speak nearly as much on the field. Although when they do, its in English thanks to Callens’ commitment to learn the language.

“Sometimes when the ball is on my right side, I don’t need to look to my left because I know where Alex is. Maybe six months ago, a year ago it was not like that,” Chanot said. “To have a very good duo, it takes time and now you can see the result of this.”

Chanot said they are friends off the field as well, but the same is true of his other teammates, an extremely tight-knit unit that he says is “is living well.”

The only complaint Chanot said he had of his defensive partner was his hi-top fade hairstyle when he arrived from CD Numancia in Spain’s Segunda Division.

“I was laughing a bit at his haircut, but now its getting better since he’s in New York City,” Chanot said. “I think New York helped him with his hairstyle.”

Chanot and Callens also greatly helped NYCFC fortify its defense. What was a team that leaked goals is now one of the stingiest in MLS. The team has conceded 1.23 goals per game since the start of the 2017 season, good for the lowest average in MLS. NYCFC had conceded 1.69 goals per game over their first two seasons in MLS.

While Chanot has been a regular with Luxembourg, Callens has been capped 10 times for Peru. He said he hasn’t been in contact with the Peruvian federation about this summer’s World Cup, but he’s hoping he opens eyes with the work he’s doing with NYCFC.

“It’s a dream since I was young. Who doesn’t want to play in a World Cup?” Callens said. “I’m waiting for my opportunity and when it does come, I will give it my all and show off all the hard work I’ve done here.”

Until then, Chanot and Callens will continue working, continue laughing and continue celebrating the differences that make them a perfect partnership.

“They don’t speak the same language, but somehow they click,” midfielder Alex Ring said. “For a team, the central positions are the backbone of your team. It’s very important the center back pairing works. I would say the same like Patrick, I don’t know if you will find a better center back pairing in MLS than ours.”

RBNY v. NYCFC Saturday @ 2pm ET at Red Bull Arena – Limited tickets available for the NY Derby starting at $40