New York City FC has had several high-profile signings in their short history, however it is one of the signings that had little fanfare that proved to be one of their shrewdest. Alexander Callens joined NYCFC In January 2017, at age 24 from Spanish side Numancia and has since become a permanent fixture in Patrick Vieira’s starting eleven. The Peruvian defender has played 3,510 consecutive MLS regular season minutes – that’s every single regular season minute NYCFC has played – since his arrival in 2017.
Callens’ arrival ushered in a new era for NYCFC’s defense; one in which they were stingy when it came to allowing opposition goals. After having allowed 57 goals in 2016 prior to Callens’ arrival, NYC’s defense allowed only 43 in 2017 during his first season in MLS. NYC has only allowed 4 goals through 5 matches so far in the 2018 season.
Make no mistake about it, Callens has been a key factor in New York City’s defensive turnaround from a side that resembled a leaky faucet to one that’s nearly air-tight. The team named him their 2017 Defensive Player of the Year, after helping lead the team to their best-ever finish. The only MLS match Callens missed was the first leg of the 2017 Eastern Conference Semi Final, a 4-1 loss for NYCFC.
He’s picked up right where he left off in 2018 with more highlight worthy defensive plays to help keep opponents from scoring.
— alexander (@Alexcallens06) April 2, 2018
The Iron Man
If there exists a professional athlete that looks forward to a day off, you wouldn’t know it by speaking to Alexander Callens. When asked his thoughts on having played every minute of the MLS regular season since his arrival, he responds with a broad smile and a chuckle.
“Happy. I’m very content, I’m very happy. It shows that I’m working well and that helps the team and I’m going to keep working so that this continues, and see if we can get better results than last year,” says Callens. So far that’s been the case, with NYCFC being one of only two undefeated teams in the league so far (FC Dallas is also undefeated but has played two fewer matches). The results have continued to pile up and Callens continues to get minutes without an end in sight.
So what is he doing differently than everyone else to not only make the team, but to be healthy enough to play every week? According to Callens, nothing extraordinary. “I just listen to the people that train me, physically: I eat well, sleep well and that’s it, I just do what I enjoy doing, play football.” The defender has managed to do everything asked of him and can help serve as an example for players like Jonathan Lewis, James Sands, Joe Scally, Kwame Awuah and Cedric Houtondji who have a total of 4 minutes played between them in 2018. If those players can emulate the formula Callens has seemingly perfected during the week, they will see more of the field.
“My goal is to win everything, to win a cup with New York City.”
When asked what his goals are for the 2018 season he didn’t miss a beat, his goals are clear and defined. “My goal this year is to win everything. My goal is to win everything, to win a cup with New York City, since that’s what I think we’re missing.”
“Win everything” is exactly what NYCFC are trying to do and it’s what Alexander Callens has done since his arrival. He’s won Player of the Year and won the positional battle every single week regardless of travel or opposition. If you ask Callens if NYCFC needs another player or more depth to win it all, he remains steadfast in his commitment, reiterating that they already have all the necessary pieces. “We don’t need anything else. Every day we learn more, you learn something, there’s always a detail, new things. To get better we have to keep learning.”
So far MLS forwards have struggled to learn how to best the defender. On paper Maxime Chanot is NYCFC’s best defender by far, leading the defense in clearances, interceptions, passing percentage and wearing the captain’s armband, yet it is Callens who consistently performs highlight worthy tackles and clearances. The Peruvian defender uses his incredible speed to make plays that most defenders wouldn’t be able to. In match after match, the man who hasn’t missed a beat for City demonstrates his physical abilities and it is those same abilities, along with some luck, that have helped turn him into NYCFC’s Iron Man.