NEW YORK – After playing in his native Argentina, Italy and Mexico, Maxi Moralez was looking for something different in his next experience. He wanted peace, he wanted tranquility.
So he came to New York City.
Yes, the city that never sleeps is where Moralez chose to come to get away from it all. But unlike New York City FC’s other Designated Players – David Villa, Andrea Pirlo and previously Frank Lampard – the midfielder doesn’t live in Manhattan.
Moralez prefers the suburbs – a tree-lined street, a big backyard.
“It’s very nice because there’s always something to do in the city, which is great,” Moralez said through a translator. “But for me, I chose to live outside of New York City because I wanted a house, to have space, to be with my dogs.”
The 5-foot-3, 115-pound Moralez loves his dogs. The elder of his two Golden Retrievers, Zeus, has been with him in Argentina, Italy and Mexico. The younger, Leon, was a gift to his newborn second child six months ago.
They‘ve been his only companions in New York as he awaits the imminent arrival of his wife and children.
“For the moment, while I wait for my family to come here, it’s just going to training, going home, back to training,” Moralez said.
Moralez is taking English lessons through the club, but his ability to speak Spanish and Italian made the transition a bit easier to communicate with Villa, Pirlo and NYCFC head coach Patrick Vieira.
That his children – the oldest is two and the youngest is six months old – can grow up in the United States was especially appealing for Moralez when deciding to come to NYCFC.
“I like that my kids can grow up learning another language here in the United States,” Moralez said.
Moralez also likes the relative anonymity that comes with playing soccer in New York City. That wasn’t the case in his other spots, where he played for the biggest club in town.
“In Argentina, it’s not that people were necessarily bothering me, but they’d always recognize me. Also in Mexico and Italy it was the same thing,” Moralez said. “Here, basketball and baseball are the primary sports and soccer is after that. It’s nice to have more of a normal life.”
Moralez had never visited the US before signing with NYCFC as their latest DP on Feb. 15, but his wife had been to Manhattan and loved it. She just so happens to be close friends with the wife of Montreal Impact midfielder Ignacio Piatti, speaking with her this winter about the possibility of Moralez moving to NYCFC and setting the table for the two attacking midfielders to have a discussion on the merits of moving to MLS and North America.
“He said marvelous things, that he was so happy with the league and country,” Moralez said. “It’s very good for your family. It’s very tranquil especially compared to living in Argentina and the football itself is very professional.”
As it turned out, Piatti was spot on with his scouting report, Moralez said. Although, there have been some subtle nuances – like when he was asked for his autograph in Orlando after a loss in the season-opener.
“Those things never happened in Argentina,” he said.
Moralez started his career in Argentina with Racing and scored the winning goal to lift Velez Sarsfield to the league championship in 2009. He went on to enjoy success in Serie A with Atalanta before moving to Liga MX to compete with Club Leon in 2016.
Things quickly turned rocky in Mexico. He was brought in by Juan Antonio Pizzi, but after just three games, Pizzi left to become the Chilean national team head coach and Moralez would have two more managers – Luis Fernando Tena and Javier Torrente – over the course of 12 months.
“Things got complicated,” Moralez said. “I wasn’t playing much and there was a lot of changes that didn’t really favor me. It was not a great situation.”
It was, though, for NYCFC brass, who were looking for someone to fill a very specific role after Lampard retired following the end of the 2016 season.
“When we look at the No. 10 position, that’s what we wanted to focus on, someone who would be the link between our midfield players and attacking players,” said NYCFC sporting director Claudio Reyna. “We felt we needed someone who could unlock certain situations in a game and has the vision to make the short pass, the long pass, pop up and make goals as well.”
Reyna, Vieira and David Lee, NYCFC’s technical director, had about 30 candidates for the coveted spot. Reyna said they watched about 20 hours of tape – full games, partial games and highlights – of the 30-year-old Moralez, eventually moving him to the top of their wish list.
“He had the right amount of experience, he’s an offensive creative player who also works hard for the team, which is very important for us,” Reyna said. “The experience he had playing in Italy, he understands both sides of the ball, his awareness tactically to help out and not only be an attacking player who has the freedom to do what he wants when his team has the ball.”
Each of NYCFC’s previous three DPs were global stars who were a marketing hit for a burgeoning club. Finding someone with similar off-field credentials, though, wasn’t a concern this time around.
“That was a different time for the club,” Reyna said. “Every decision has to be taken where we are currently and we felt it was the right thing to do. It was strictly a soccer decision.”
However, there was plenty of competition for Moralez’s signature, especially from Argentina, where Boca Juniors and Racing wanted him to return home. Other clubs from Mexico were also in the fray.
But Moralez had already played in both countries. He wanted a different experience, tipping the scales toward NYCFC. The actual recruiting process lasted almost no time. There were conversations with Vieira and Reyna and suddenly, he was signed.
“It all happened in two weeks when the possibility came about,” Moralez said.
Moralez drew immediate comparisons to Sebastian Giovinco when he arrived at NYCFC, but that was more because of their similar stature than style of play. The Toronto FC forward plays with a bit more flash than Moralez, who tries to play the way he lives – with tranquility.
“When he’s on the ball, he’s always giving options, whether it’s to our No. 6 if it’s Andrea or giving options to players who are in the position for the ball,” Vieira said. “He’s really mobile on the field, he creates chances and free kicks. This is really good, especially with the way we want to play. We want to control the possession of the game, we want to build up from the back. To have him on the ball is really good for us.”
Moralez’s size, or lack thereof, wasn’t a concern for NYCFC. He’s not going to be marking opposing team’s center backs on corner kicks any time soon, but Reyna said he likes his toughness, which has been on display in some physical leagues.
“He’s been targeted quite a bit,” Reyna said. “But he can take care of himself, that’s for sure.”
Vieira and Reyna have nothing but rave reviews of Moralez in his first month in MLS. The same is true of Villa.
“My feeling is inside the pitch, when he has the ball at his feet, something will happen,” Villa said. “I need to be ready. It’s like Andrea. If they don’t see you or it looks like they don’t see you, but they see you. You have to be ready for the pass.”
Moralez is flattered by Villa’s words, but he was quick to correct his new captain. There is but one Pirlo, who is often called the most interesting man in the world. Moralez is just a soccer player who likes the simple things – his sport, his family and his dogs. There is nothing else he needs from New York City.
“I’m very chill,” Moralez said. “I liked the idea of the club, of the project here. Secondarily, my family, it was very comfortable for my family to be here.”