New York City FC announced their first big addition of the offseason on Monday, with the signing of 26-year-old Thiago Martins from Japanese first-division side Yokohama F. Marinos.
Martins, a center back from Brazil, has won titles with both Palmeiras and Yokohama in his career. At 26, he fits the profile of a player that is entering his prime, and continues the trend of NYCFC spending money and assets on players on the right side of their prime.
NYCFC used a Designated Player slot to sign Thiago Martins
Rather surprisingly, NYCFC utilized a Designated Player spot to sign Martins. He is the first defender to have this designation in club history, which across MLS is largely used on attacking players. This leaves NYCFC with just one available Designated Player spot on their roster, which will likely either be used on a new winger or on a replacement for Taty Castellanos if he should leave.
The signing of a center back this winter was essential due to the club's lack of depth at that position. NYCFC already boasts one of the best center back pairings in MLS with Maxime Chanot and Alexander Callens, but Vuk Latinovich is the only other natural center back on the first team. At 32, Chanot is entering a later stage of his career, but proved throughout the playoffs that he is still a top player and reliable option for Ronny Deila.
Thiago Martins was a key player for Yokohama F. Marinos
While most NYCFC fans likely haven't watched much of Thiago Martins in the J League, the online reaction to his departure showed that he was beloved at his club. Many fans of Yokohama consider him to be one of the best center backs in the J League. With Yokohama being part of City Football Group, NYCFC will have received a detailed scouting report on Martins before making the decision to sign him.
Martins is well known for his pace and recovery ability, routinely chasing forwards down and getting to 50/50 balls first. He appears to be a comfortable distributor of the ball, which is essential to the style of play that NYCFC desire. A right footed player, he will likely pair with Alexander Callens in a back four, and also gives Deila the tactical flexibility to play with 3 at the back, which was hampered by the departure of James Sands.
While any player coming to MLS as a Designated Player will be met with pressure and expectation to perform, Martins will in ways have even more considering he is a center back. Young, attacking DPs are given time to develop and flourish, and there are simply more of them. As a 26 year old center back, the expectation is that Martins should be among the league's top defenders.
Should he reach that status, NYCFC will be difficult to beat, given his likely partner in Alexander Callens is among the best central defenders in the league already. The Pigeons still need to add depth at right back and on the wing, but Martins undeniably fills one of their most pressing offseason needs prior to a season in which they will be competing on several fronts.