Since midfielder Yangel Herrera returned to the pitch in a sky blue kit ahead of schedule from what seemed to be season-ending ankle surgery, NYCFC have seemingly shape-shifted back to the title contending team of the season's first few months.
On Halloween, NYCFC beat the Philadelphia Union 3-1 in the first Knockout Round game of the Audi 2018 MLS Cup Playoffs. Herrera's footprint was left all over the field, completing 84 percent of his passes with three tackles, three interceptions, two fouls won, only two fouls committed and 13 ball recoveries.
His impact was felt by Union coach Jim Curtin, who was effusive in his praise of the 20-year-old after the game.
"The kid, Herrera, he's a top player," Curtin said. "Not just in our league, he's a top player. He can play in any league, anywhere. For a [20-year-old] off of a five, six month injury, to step into games and playing  minutes in two days, you can see how valuable he is to their group."
Herrera, alongside Alex Ring and Maxi Moralez, helped dominate the game's most valuable real estate on a tight pitch at Yankee Stadium. They made the midfield theirs, making life difficult for the Union's engine room.
"Ring flies under the radar and Moralez," Curtin said. "You put that three up against any midfield in the league and they’re playing with David Villa. It’s a handful for sure. It’s a team that can beat any team in our league certainly and obviously the home field advantage they have here is the best in the league."
Moralez had a hand in all three goals on Wednesday night, scoring one and assisting two. It was nothing new for the diminutive star, who notched eight goals and 16 assists this season.
"He’s a handful," Curtin said. "He’s confident right now, he has a way of moving on the field. He gets open while you’re in possession of the ball and then as soon as they break in transition, we didn’t do a good enough job locating him ... You talk about a guy who can really change a game, change a team, and gives coaches nightmares just trying to deal with his mobility all over the field and his balance and center of gravity. It was too much for us tonight."
Moralez, Herrera and Ring will need to be on form again when NYCFC host Atlanta United on Sunday for the first leg of the Eastern Conference Semifinals.