ORANGEBURG, N.Y. — New York City FC have already clinched a berth in the Audi 2019 MLS Cup Playoffs, the earliest the club have done so in their short five-year history.
But there are bigger aspirations for the regular season. NYCFC want to earn one of the top spots in the Eastern Conference and are in contention for that No. 1 position, which brings with it a first-round bye.
A lot will likely ride on the upcoming stretch of three games in a span of eight days at Yankee Stadium, starting with a clash on Saturday (3:30 PM ET | Univision, Twitter in US; MLS LIVE on DAZN in Canada) against the New England Revolution.
NYCFC enter this critical match shorthanded, both from injuries and international duty. But one player who was expected to be away with his national team has opted to stay — at least for Saturday.
Central defender Maxime Chanot was slated to join Luxembourg for an international friendly against Northern Ireland on Thursday and a Euro 2020 qualifying match against Serbia Tuesday.
Instead, Luxembourg’s captain missed the friendly in Belfast and will join the team in Luxembourg City Sunday.
“I don't want to speak about myself, to be honest,” Chanot said after training Thursday. “I'm here for the next game against New England, I'm very happy to try to help the team to catch to first place because it should be a target for a club like NYCFC. I will be proud to be on the pitch and I will be proud to go back to my national team and help the team also get points in Euro qualification.”
It isn’t the first time Chanot has done this. Earlier this year, he stayed back with NYCFC for a midweek home match against FC Cincinnati June 6, missing a Luxembourg friendly against Madagascar and a Euro 2020 qualifier against Lithuania. He played in a 1-0 loss to Ukraine in another qualifier on June 10.
“I'm very proud to be an NYCFC player,” Chanot said. “I will work as much as I can to make sure we can bring the championship to this club because they deserve it. I’m also proud to be back in my country because it's very important to represent my family and my country.”
It is, of course, a relief for NYCFC coach Dome Torrent, who will be without starting center back Alex Callens, who is with Peru for international friendlies against Ecuador and Brazil, left back Ronald Matarrita, who is with Costa Rica ahead of a friendly against Uruguay. Goalkeeper Sean Johnson is part of the USMNT camp ahead of friendlies against Mexico and Uruguay, though recent media reports suggest he will rejoin his club in time for Saturday’s clash.
“Maxime is a captain, that means he’s an important player for Luxembourg,” said Torrent. “The first game is a friendly game, it is normal. I don’t understand sometimes when the players decide to play with the national team and its a friendly game and you have three important games, these are playoff games. We are in the playoffs right now, but it's very important to try to finish in the first or the second of the third position because you know, especially this year, how important it is because these are knockout games.”
Chanot is enjoying his best form since joining NYCFC in 2016. He’s built a case to be an MLS Defender of the Year candidate and has been an indispensable part of his club’s backline.
“It shows what it really means for him and for the club, that’s we're in a good spot now and we have the chance to do something big,” fullback Anton Tinnerholm said. “Of course it’s good for us to have him that game.”