With Maxi Moralez back, NYCFC play best 45 minutes of season in 3-1 win over Chicago Fire FC

New York City FC’s best performances of the 2020 MLS season, the convincing win over Toronto FC in the MLS is Back Tournament Round of 16 and the second half of Saturday night’s 3-1 victory over Chicago Fire FC, had a common denominator — Maxi Moralez pulling the strings.

The Argentine playmaker’s insertion at halftime changed the game Saturday night and helped lift NYCFC to a second consecutive win at Red Bull Arena.

It was Moralez’s first minutes since a substitute performance in an MLS is Back quarterfinals defeat to the Portland Timbers August 1.

“I don’t think I’ve seen Maxi so fresh and you see that he has no pain and then you also see how good he is, how vital he is for the team,” coach Ronny Deila said after the match. “He created a lot of chances, we played a really good second half. I’m eager to see the future. We just want to play games now.”

Moralez said he felt really good when he arrived in Orlando, but then he quickly picked up a calf injury in the club’s tournament-opening defeat to the Philadelphia Union July 9 and it has been nagging him ever since.

“My leg is a lot better and I actually recovered quicker than I had hoped,” Moralez said through a translator. “I’m 100 percent and ready for Wednesday’s game.”

Moralez picked up his seventh assist in seven all-time performances against Chicago just eight minutes after stepping on the field on what proved to be Anton Tinnerholm’s winner.

“Attacking-wise, he’s the most important player for the team and he makes teammates better. That’s his strength and that’s what I really like about him,” Tinnerholm said of Moralez. “He’s not the guy dribbling five players and scoring. He finds his spaces, today to me and even some balls to Taty [Castellanos] where he can score.”

With Moralez back, NYCFC appear to be humming again. They’ve won consecutive games, moving up from last place in the East to just below the playoff line. But they’re doing so with humility. Now is not the time for swagger. It’s just about on to the next one, which comes Wednesday (8 pm ET | MLS LIVE on ESPN+ in US, on DAZN in Canada) against the New England Revolution at Gillette Stadium.

“We can’t be pleased just with this, we have another game on [Wednesday] and we’ve gotta win this one,” Tinnerholm said. “It’s important we go from here and don’t feel like we’re the best team in the league and everything is going to be fine. We have to keep on going and we have to show it on the pitch.”