The occasion is especially meaningful for center back Maxime Chanot, with the 32-year-old Luxembourg international being the Cityzens’ longest-tenured player.
He originally joined in 2016 after a five-year stint in Belgium, seeing the club’s growth from the star-studded expansion-years launch replete with David Villa, Andrea Pirlo and Frank Lampard to the South American-heavy group that’s one game away from the 2022 Concacaf Champions League semifinals, holding a 3-1 aggregate advantage on Guatemala's Comunicaciones FC. They lifted the league title last year in penalty kicks over the Portland Timbers.
“I've seen a lot at this club. I've seen a lot of improvement,” Chanot told MLSsoccer.com. “We had a lot of difficult times when we lost in the playoffs four or five years in a row, but winning the league last season has been something special for me, very emotional after everything we've been through. I'm very proud and very happy to be part of what we achieved last season.”
As much as NYCFC are led by reigning Golden Boot presented by Audi winner Taty Castellanos and midfield magician Maxi Moralez, plus their young cadre of attackers like Talles Magno and Santiago Rodriguez, Chanot helps form their defensive bedrock. From Opta data among league-wide defenders stretching back to 2017, he’s eighth in clean sheets kept, ninth in interceptions, 10th in duels won and first in successful passes.
But Chanot’s quick to note that his success is also the byproduct of one of MLS’s strongest center-back partnerships, featuring alongside Peru international Alexander Callens. In front of US international goalkeeper Sean Johnson, he said their dynamic is “automatic” and almost contains a sixth-sense element.
“We don't need to speak on the pitch as much because we just understand each other,” Chanot said. “It's not often to see these kinds of partnerships for such a long time, especially in MLS, but I think we've proved that in winning MLS Cup last season that it was a good decision from the club to keep this duo for such a long time. I believed with our partnership we could reach the trophy.”
Chanot’s leading role comes during his 15th professional season, one that started at England’s Sheffield United after progressing through the academy at Ligue 1’s Stade de Reims. Going face-to-face against the league’s top-end attacking talent, Chanot’s game has been challenged and he’s seen glimpses of what top-flight soccer in the US and Canada can be.
“As a defender, it's really hard to be competitive in MLS because there's so much talent. You have to come prepared,” Chanot said. “I came from the Belgian league and I would say MLS is better. It's funny because I think the mix of every culture MLS can bring with European players, American players, South Americans, it's a good mix. I'm very, very positive for the future of this league. In the next few years, MLS can really compete to be one of the top five leagues in the world.”
Chanot also worked closely in years past with James Sands, NYCFC’s homegrown player who’s on loan at Rangers in Scotland. To replace the US international’s contributions, the club brought in Brazilian center back Thiago Martins this offseason as a Designated Player. He arrived from Japan’s Yokohama F. Marinos, part of the City Football Group umbrella.
Those signings reflect how Chanot connects the past and future of NYCFC, offering leadership and dependability for head coach Ronny Deila’s group. Whether he’s at the club long-term or this chapter of his esteemed career winds down, Chanot is driven to keep building off past successes.
“If you know me as a person, [MLS Cup is] not enough for me. I want more,” Chanot said. “I want another championship, I want to win the Champions League. I want to win more trophies and bring that to the club.”
How much? Chanot, one of the league’s top center backs, doesn’t hold back.
“I'm born to compete and that's why I wake up every morning,” Chanot said. “ … We want to bring this Champions League club to the New York fans because they deserve it.”