Maxi Moralez

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The impossible annual task of choosing an MLS Best XI

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Forget about a functional XI when you’re putting together an MLS Best XI.

That’s true in most leagues, to be fair, but the offensive firepower in MLS puts up gaudy numbers as silky attackers are given a bit more free reign than their used to in previous leagues.

Consider that two players eclipsed the 30-goal mark in Carlos Vela and Zlatan Ibrahimovic, with the latter doing it in under 30 matches. Josef Martinez also came close in 29 matches.

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Those players are enough to form a trident for your Best XI, and they come from loaded units.

Then there’s midfielder Maxi Moralez of NYCFC with his 20 assists in 2434 minutes.

Vela had double digit goals and assists, an achievement met by Carles Gil (New England), Alejandero Pozuelo (Toronto), and Nani (Orlando City).

They all can’t make it.

So we’ll build from the back, and likely punish the fullbacks thanks to a remarkable group of attackers.

Here is who is getting my vote.

Goalkeeper

The backstop is always a tricky choice. Bill Hamid and Brad Guzan led the league in clean sheets with 14, but only the former will warrant consideration here. The Galaxy’s David Bingham led the league in saves and saves inside the box, while also stopping a pair of penalties.

Both join Portland’s Steve Clark, Vancouver’s Maxime Crepeau, and New England’s Matt Turner as advanced stat darlings.

For me it comes down to Hamid and Bingham. The former had far superior defenders, but I can’t get past DC United’s 38 goals allowed to the Galaxy’s 59. Maybe it’s the hockey fan in me thinking of it like the Jennings Award, but that’s my tiebreaker.

Defender

I’m gonna start with DC again here, and the Black-and-Red have two players deserving of a place: Frederic Brillant and Steve Birnbaum.

Here’s why I’m opting for the latter: On the SofaScore list of the Top 20 rated defenders in MLS, minimum 25 games, all but two were dribbled past 11 times or more: Orlando’s Lamine Sane and Birnbaum.

Birnbaum’s number? Two.

You read that right. In 3032 minutes this season, he was taken twice.

Other contenders include:

— Ike Opara, who had another remarkable season and didn’t miss a beat in switching from Sporting KC to Minnesota.

Bastian Schweinsteiger in Chicago dropped from the center of the park and was very strong.

— Miles Robinson of Atlanta was exceptional, especially given his age, while Ryan Hollingshead had the best advanced statistical season of any back on WhoScored. Jorge Moreira gets that nod on SofaScore. And spare a thought for Keegan Rosenberry, who intercepted 16 more passes than anyone else in MLS (82) but still can’t get a call from the USMNT.

Everybody else

We named the prime attackers in MLS at the top of this post. You’d like to add Nicolas Lodeiro and Diego Valeri.

Eduard Atuesta and Mark-Anthony Kaye from LAFC have been difference makers behind Vela. In-beom Hwang was marvelous more often than not but on a terrible Vancouver team.

But there’s one name I believe qualifies as the least-heralded star in MLS.

Minnesota United’s Jan Gregus needs to be on this team. I don’t think he will because his goal and eight assists don’t pop off the page and the Slovakian national team doesn’t get as much love as center midfield partner and well-established bulldog Osvaldo Alonso.

Gregus was fifth in MLS in interceptions with 1.9 per match, 2.2 key passes, and crafts an awfully nice looking long pass. You could argue that he was the key to Minnesota’s fourth seed.

The Best XI

So here’s my team. We’d be destroyed out wide, but would probably score 10 goals a game so man would we entertain?

Bill Hamid (DC)

Robinson (ATL) — Birnbaum (DC) — Opare (MIN)

Gregus (MIN) — Atuesta (LAFC)

Lodeiro (SEA) — Moralez (NYCFC)

Vela (LAFC) — Ibrahimovic (LAG) — Martinez (ATL)

Bench: Bingham (LAG), Brillant (DC), Gil (NE), Pozuelo (TOR), Przyzbylko (PHI), Valeri (POR), Schweinsteiger (CHI)

NYCFC rides Mitrita 1st half hat trick to cusp of East’s No. 1 seed

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Alexandru Mitrita has heated up in a big way at the right time.

New York City’s Romanian winger scored three goals in the first 34 minutes of play of a massive match against Atlanta United at Yankee Stadium on Wednesday.

NYC rode those goals to a 4-1 win, with a Pity Martinez penalty the only concession and a Heber marker in the 87th minute the finishing touch.

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That gives him six goals and two assists in his last six matches. Pretty good stuff as NYCFC is on the verge of clinching the No. 1 spot in the East, which could happen as soon as Philadelphia’s trip to San Jose for a 10:30 p.m. ET kickoff.

Maxi Moralez assisted Mitrita’s second goal, and became just the third player in MLS history to register 20 assists in a season (Carlos Valderrama and Sacha Kljestan).

Atlanta can no longer catch NYC, and the Philadelphia Union are nine points back with three matches to play. City has two, has 12 goals better differential, and travels to Chester to face the Union on Decision Day.

The Heber goal was stupid, as he tackled Leandro Gonzalez Pirez before putting Brad Guzan on a Slip ‘N Slide.

Late VAR call hands NYCFC valuable victory over Revs (video)

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The game in 200 words (or less):  There are zero doubts about it: Saturday’s officiating at Yankee Stadium highly influenced NYCFC’s 2-1 win over New England Revolution. For instance, Bruce Arena’s meltdown in front of the fourth official in the dying seconds of the game was a testament to role the referees played. Just nine minutes in, the Revs played with 10 players, following a direct red card to defender Antonio Delamea after video review. Of course, like in any game, there was clearly a superior team on the field, regardless of what the scoreline indicated. That team throughout the course of the game was the home side, who eventually separated themselves from the visitors following the substitution of Jesus Medina. The Paraguayan scored two goals, but his second takes us back to square one: officiating and video review. Well into extra time, the home side were awarded a penalty following video review. Medina converted from the penalty spot, lifting NYCFC atop the Eastern Conference table, while delivering another low blow to the Revs’ playoff hopes.

Three moments that mattered

2′ — Caicedo wastes no time to score  — It’s been a slow year for Juan Caicedo. This, however, will serve his confidence well.

70′ — Medina makes an instant impact off the bench  — Despite a positive game from Maxi Moralez, NYCFC needed someone to step up and score. Jesus Medina did just that 10 minutes after taking the field.

96′ — VAR saves the day for the home side — The sequence leading up to Medina’s second goal will be a talking point all weekend.

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Man of the match: Jesus Medina

Goalscorers: Caicedo (2′), Medina (70′), Medina (96′)

NYCFC waltzes past Philadelphia in playoff opener (video)

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Single-elimination games on the tiny pitch at Yankee Stadium is a difficult way to conclude a season, and the Philadelphia Union will be bitter about the end to its campaign following a 3-1 loss to New York City FC in the first round of the MLS Cup Playoffs.

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The stars were out for the East’s No. 3 seed as Ismael Tajouri-Shradi, David Villa, and Maxi Moralez all scored for NYCFC, who will meet No. 2 seed Atlanta United in the conference semifinals.

Cory Burke scored for Philadelphia who lost in the same building by the same score for the second time in four days.

Tajouri-Shradi’s goal was the pick of the bunch, hit with vigor to open the scoring.

MLS: NYCFC beat Red Bulls on Maxi Moralez’s late goal

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The Domenec Torrent era has seen New York City FC hardly skip a beat, as Patrick Vieira’s former side has won two of their first three games under the new boss.

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After knocking off Toronto FC on Torrent’s debut two weeks ago, NYCFC, who currently sit second in the Eastern Conference (six points back of leaders Atlanta United), blew a 2-1 lead away to Chicago Fire and lost 3-2 last weekend. On Sunday, though, in Torrent’s first New York derby clash with the New York Red Bulls, NYCFC got a late goal from Maxi Moralez to go a point clear of their local rivals and exact a small measure of revenge for the 4-0 thrashing they suffered earlier this year.

Not long before Moralez broke through for his seventh goal of the season (to go with eight assists), it was the Red Bulls who nearly went ahead, but Kaku’s volley flashed inches wide of Sean Johnson’s left-hand post. It was the best chance for the side under Chris Armas, who took over for the recently departed Jesse Marsch (RB Leipzig) on Friday.

The defeat snaps the Red Bulls’ three-game winning streak and drops them to third place in the East, now eight points back of Atlanta following the Five Stripes’ win on Saturday.