Thiago Martins Unveils the Secret Behind NYCFC’s Impenetrable Defense

In an exclusive interview with MLS Multiplex, Brazilian defender Thiago Martins spills the beans on the impact of new players and the strategy that turned NYCFC's MLS season around
New York City FC v New York Red Bulls
New York City FC v New York Red Bulls / James Williamson - AMA/GettyImages

The New York City FC is having a pretty good season, currently sitting in sixth place in the Eastern Conference and well within the MLS playoff zone. Fans are dreaming of a playoff spot, something that was missing in 2023. One of the major reasons for this turnaround is the team’s mental strength. In an exclusive interview with MLS Multiplex, defender Thiago Martins shared how the group has managed to strengthen itself, showing their resilience on the field.

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"We have a young team, so we need that mental strength to chase our goals for the season. We’ve been able to focus and understand our objectives in the league, and we’re all in to achieve the club’s goals."

Thiago Martins

Martins has appeared in 17 MLS games, starting in all of them, missing only two games for NYCFC. With a strong presence on the right side, he often pushes into midfield. Hailing from Minas Gerais, the Brazilian has significantly contributed to NYCFC’s stellar defense, making them the third-best team in the league in this aspect.

You might be wondering about their offense. Well, NYCFC hasn’t been slacking there either, scoring 26 goals. To balance things out, coach Nick Cushing didn’t need to make drastic changes to the tactical setup, even with the arrival of new players. As Thiago Martins pointed out, Cushing successfully conveyed his vision of each player’s role on the field.

"We didn’t have many tactical changes this season. New players came in to help us, and there were differences in our daily work and meetings"

Thiago Santos

NYCFC has an extremely young squad, averaging 22.9 years old. This fact hasn’t stopped the team from asserting themselves, especially at home. In 10 home games, they’ve secured six wins, three losses, and a draw. The team has also achieved notable victories away, including a draw against the surging Inter Miami.

However, Thiago Martins acknowledges NYCFC’s achievements but emphasizes that the most important thing is the team’s progression, which will allow them to aim higher this season.

Thiago Martins
Philadelphia Union v New York City FC / Ira L. Black - Corbis/GettyImages

Here’s our full exclusive interview with Thiago Martins from New York City FC

Thiago, first off, congratulations on NYCFC’s impressive performance this season. While prepping for our chat, I noticed you recently mentioned the “winning mentality” as a key factor for the team’s success. Could you elaborate on that? How exactly was this mentality developed and implemented in the club’s day-to-day operations? It must have been an interesting process.

Absolutely, it’s been a fascinating process. We’ve been working hard on fostering a strong and winning mentality because we have a young team, so we need that mental fortitude to chase our season goals. We’ve been able to focus and understand our objectives in the league, and we’re united in achieving the club’s goals, which I believe has been crucial for our good campaign so far.

Speaking of tactics, we know soccer is a game of constant adaptations. What specific changes in the team’s strategy this year do you think contributed to your success on the field? How have these changes reflected in the games?

We didn’t have many tactical changes this season. New players came in to help us, and there were differences in our daily work and meetings to ensure everyone understood what the coach was asking for, keeping us all in sync. It doesn’t always happen, but I believe we’re in the process of evolving, and we’ll reap good rewards from that.

Physical preparation is crucial to keeping the team competitive throughout the season. Did you make any changes in physical preparation or injury management that helped keep the team in shape and minimize injury issues? It must be challenging to keep everyone ready to play with so many matches.

The medical and physical departments have been working excellently to help us, preparing and minimizing injuries so all players are available to the coach. I believe good performance is a combination of factors, and physical preparation is one of them. We also need to maintain a good routine off the field, and our team’s focus has resulted in a low number of injuries.

There are always players who end up standing out more than expected. Is there any particular player who surprised you positively this year, someone who really had a significant impact on the team’s performance? Maybe someone who wasn’t in the spotlight at the beginning of the season.

We have many young and promising players, so there’s always a chance for a new athlete to surprise us. But one player I really like is Hannes Wolf, who came from European soccer, has a lot of quality, and has been helping us a lot. Having a player like him in the group makes a difference and helps those around him improve even more.

Integrating new players into a team can be a big challenge, especially considering last year’s difficulties with many changes. How was this process of integrating new team members managed? Was there any specific strategy to facilitate this transition and ensure everyone was on the same page?

The change in mentality from last year to this year was crucial. From the start of the season, our entire squad has been doing everything to help integrate new players, making adaptation easier because we know it’s a process. Whether it’s moving clubs within the league or from another country, like Hannes Wolf, the faster the adaptation, the better it is for our team.

It’s notable that the team has excelled not only at home but also in away games. That’s not always easy to achieve. How have you managed to maintain such a solid performance away from home comfort? Is there any special preparation or different mentality for these games?

We’ve achieved good results away from home, but it’s not easy. We know that to reach our goals, we have to earn points away from home. So, we try to maintain our playing style, even away, because we know our team’s strength and our competition goals. And by achieving good results, we gain confidence, which helps us play well in opponents’ stadiums.

Every season has its highs and lows, and there are often moments that define the team’s trajectory. Was there a specific game or situation this season that you consider a turning point for the team, a moment when you realized you were on the right track?

The derby win against the New York Red Bulls and the away triumph against Philadelphia, one round before the derby, were crucial moments for gaining confidence. But we know none of this matters if we don’t maintain our performance level and keep evolving to go far in the league.

Technical aspects are crucial for any team aiming to reach its maximum goals. What aspects do you still feel need improvement to stay at the top and perhaps even exceed this season’s goals? There’s always something to adjust, right?

For sure, we always have room for improvement. Consistency is key to achieving our season goals. We need to capitalize on the opportunities we create to achieve better results. Additionally, we aim to improve defensively to concede fewer goals and have more clean sheets.

MLS has become an increasingly competitive league, with many teams investing heavily and bringing in top talent. How do you assess the competitiveness of MLS this year compared to previous seasons? Do you think the league’s growth impacts how you prepare and play?

I believe MLS is on a very good upward trend with the arrival of various renowned and high-quality players, increasing the competition level. Consequently, we have to prepare even better to stay on par. I think the arrival of big stars only adds positively to the league and all clubs, giving us extra motivation to keep evolving.

The relationship between players and the coach is always fundamental for a team’s success. The connection with coach Nick Cushing seems very positive. What new things has he brought to the team? Is there anything specific in his approach that you think made a difference?

His positivity and will to win are always present. And the playing style he proposes is a positive point for this season. These things make a difference for us players because it gives us confidence and makes us more relaxed on the field, and the results are a consequence of our good performance.

Thiago, it was a pleasure talking to you and learning more about NYCFC’s success this season. Good luck! To wrap up our interview, how are you preparing for the upcoming games and the final stretch of the season? What are the main focuses and strategies moving forward?

We’re working hard for the rest of the championship and looking to improve. That’s our mindset. We know we can’t slack off or drop our performance level. We need to maintain what we’re doing to keep gaining confidence, taking it one game at a time to give our best every round, as we aim to qualify and compete for big things in the league.