Oct 31, 2018; Bronx, NY, USA; New York City midfielder Ismael Tajouri (29) plays the ball against Philadelphia Union defender Warren Creavalle (2) in front of defender Ray Gaddis (28) during the first half at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports
BRONX, N.Y. – With a healthy Yangel Herrera receiving adulation for his ability to change the midfield for New York City FC, the less trumpeted return of a 5-foot-3 Argentinian was just as vital Wednesday night.
Maxi Moralez had one goal and two assists to lead NYCFC to a 3-1 win over the Philadelphia Union in the knockout round of the MLS Cup playoffs before an announced crowd of 15,153 at Yankee Stadium. New York City FC will now advance to the Eastern Conference semifinals, where it will meet Atlanta United, which had a first-round bye. NYCFC will host the first of two legs Sunday at a time to be announced.
“In this conference, he is one of the best players,” NYCFC coach Dome Torrent said of Moralez. “The performance was amazing.”
Moralez helped New York City open the scoring in the 10th minute with a curling ball that skipped past David Villa and found Ismael Tajouri-Shradi, who buried a left-footed shot past Union keeper Andre Blake.
It was the former Atalanta midfielder’s 17th assist of the year – his 18th was a soft pass to Villa from the left flank. The New York City captain obliged with his fifth goal in six matches and 15th overall this season. New York City led 2-0.
Moralez capped off his man-of-the-match exhibition by chipping an onrushing Blake on a counterattack just inside the area to give City an insurmountable 3-0 lead.
Cory Burke’s third goal in as many matches against NYCFC prevented Sean Johnson’s 11th clean sheet just seven minutes before full time.
Moralez had logged more minutes than any field player before missing two consecutive matches, at Minnesota United and D.C. United, leading to Decision Day. He started the regular-season finale against Philadelphia — which ended with the same scoreline as Wednesday’s match — and contributed 68 minutes. Moralez excelled with a full 90 minutes in the rematch.
“I’m recovering very well, but it’s always a difficult task,” Moralez said. “During recovery you lose a little of yourself physically and mentally. I was happy to play all game – more importantly the team is playing very well.”
Moralez’ ability to cover vast portions of the field with astute tactical awareness enabled Torrent to change the team’s shape and preserve the victory in the final stages of the match.
“Maxi was fantastic, not just that he was able to score,” Torrent said. “The last 20 minutes, we decided to play with two strikers, David and Maxi – and he played perfect as well.”
Said Villa: “Maxi gives us many solutions. He is healthy and that is most important.”
Moralez has set a single-season personal high for goals with nine, coupled with 18 assists. While the double-digit assists were anticipated, the goal accumulation was not.
“This is the first time I’ve scored nine goals,” Moralez said. “Assists have always come easily to me. It was one of my goals this year to score more then next year and the following is to keep getting better.”