Talles Magno perhaps is the New York City FC youngster with the brightest long-term future. On Sunday, he showed why he’s already valuable in the present.
NYCFC coach Ronny Deila chose to keep Magno on the bench to begin his team’s MLS Eastern Conference final against the Philadelphia Union, opting for 30-year-old Héber to replace suspended striker Valentín Castellanos. But Magno, 19, entered in the second half and quickly found dangerous positions in the Union box, eventually slotting home the winning goal in the 88th minute to seal NYCFC’s first trip to the MLS Cup.
Deila said his plan all along was to utilize both Magno and Héber and decided to open with Héber, who’d yet to start a match this year as he recovered from a torn ACL. When City struggled to get the veteran many chances, he knew he could turn to the youngster for a different look.
"We didn't attack the space at all [in the first half], everyone comes against the ball and that was a big challenge for us, it's what we talked about during the break," Deila said. "But we knew we had Talles and those two were going to play the game and they did it in a good way."
Magno didn’t steal the spotlight upon his arrival as the club’s latest designated player. After Deila decried a lack of depth in the squad during preseason, Magno was among a trio of exciting young signings along with 21-year-olds Santiago Rodríguez and Thiago Andrade. Rodríguez has made the biggest impact thus far, becoming a fixture on the wing at the end of the season and through the playoff run, while Andrade made 21 appearances this season and scored four goals.
Acquired for a reported $8 million, Magno struggled to see much action in his first months after arriving from CR Vasco da Gama as he nursed a knee injury suffered in Brazil. With Castellanos having a Golden Boot-worthy season, there were few opportunities for Magno to play as a striker despite moments where his skill in attack was evident. His first goal didn’t come until Sept. 14 in a 3-3 draw against FC Dallas, just one of two starts he made all season. His second and final goal of the regular season was scored in a late cameo during a 3-1 win over Inter Miami.
Through it all, Magno appeared to maintain the smile on his face and put in the work to keep him in contention. Against Philadelphia, he was quick to get into high-scoring areas when NYCFC pushed the ball into the final third. The game-winner came when Magno glided into the 6-yard box while Gudi Thórarinsson took control of a long pass and moved toward net from the outside. Thórarinsson saw the striker in front and sent the ball his way along the ground, and Magno calmly finished for the clincher.
NYCFC midfielder James Sands said he was "unbelievably happy" to see Magno make the difference.
"I think if you ask anyone on the team, they will say the same thing," Sands said. "It's not easy for an 18-year-old to move to a new country, where he doesn't speak the language, but I think it speaks a lot about his work rate and his positive and resilient attitude. I'm super happy about it and maybe he’ll grab one next week too."
The expectation is Castellanos will return to the starting 11 for Sunday’s MLS Cup at the Portland Timbers, but Deila valued the chancefor Magno and Héber to get on the field.
Said Deila, "Now we have more playing time for those two and we also get Taty back so that's what makes us stronger for the final."