Maxi Moralez returns for New York City FC: "It's an absolute masterclass"


It was a party Friday night at Yankee Stadium.

Alonso Martínez's second-half hat trick fueled New York City FC's 5-1 win over the San Jose Earthquakes, giving the hosts five straight wins as Hannes Wolf and Santiago Rodríguez also joined the goalscorer's sheet.

But the biggest takeaway might have occurred in the 74th minute when the cross-conference foes were deadlocked at 1-1: Maxi Moralez made his season debut off the bench.

The veteran Argentine, an MLS Cup 2021 champion and MLS Best XI midfielder in 2019, rejoined NYCFC last August. Yet Moralez tore his ACL less than a month later, sparking a lengthy recovery process.

In Matchday 18, Moralez slotted into his customary role and assisted on Martínez's first of three goals. The 37-year-old's mere presence sparked NYCFC's most-lopsided victory of the season.

"Since I've been here, he is the greatest player to ever play for our football club," head coach Nick Cushing effused post-game. "He's had the biggest impact. He's almost like having a coach on the field when he plays like he did tonight. It's an absolute masterclass. I think you have certain players in the game that can literally just pick the game up and just put it in his pocket and just almost conduct the game like the conductor conducts the orchestra. He's that guy.

"… Tonight was masterclass vintage Maxi Moralez. He played like a 21-year-old. When we were in the locker room, we said he played like he's 21. So important to us. When I was given the opportunity last year to bring him back, I sent the plane and the car and everything to pick him up to bring him. I'm so happy for him because he's worked incredibly hard to get back to where he is."

Moralez's first stint at NYCFC spanned 2017-22, only for him to depart for boyhood side Racing Club. The club legend had 26g/69a in 162 matches, establishing a reputation as one of the best No. 10s in MLS history.

Back in the mix, he lifts a young NYCFC team looking like a top-tier contender in the Eastern Conference.

"Without a doubt, it is something special because after eight months out it has been difficult," Moralez said. "But with the help of my family, the incredible work of the team with the doctor, our medical staff, and my teammates, they have helped me a lot. Today, fortunately, I was able to return and I helped the team win."

As always, class is permanent.

"Phenomenal for the team," Martínez said. "I believe that tonight was great, the return of Maxi was very important for us to take advantage of. Once he is back, he is going to contribute a lot for us."