Weight: 165 lbs
Current Club: North Carolina FC
Position: Center back
Alternate Position(s): Left Back, Right Back
Preferred Foot: Right
Top 5 League Stylistically Similar Player(s): Takehiro Tomiyasu
Max Flick has not had your “typical” professional career. At 27 years old, he has just completed his first season as a full-fledged professional with NCFC after spending time playing at various levels in the Pittsburgh area. Considering being a defender wasn’t his original plan (he played as a winger and 10 at the collegiate level), he has adapted quite well to the role. Coming into this year, I’m not sure anyone (other than the people who brought him in and knew his quality) knew what to expect from a winger turned defender who’s never played at the pro level. He took his chance well, playing and starting in 25 of NCFC’s 28 games, averaging 88 minutes a game this season. Now, he’s signed a new 1-year (extra 1 year option included) contract as a reward for the hard work he put in last season.
Max primarily played as a center back this year on the left side though he spent time all across the back line this season to great effect. Max showed his versatility time and time again, a huge reason he’s such an important part of this NCFC squad. Coming into a very young team, it was also Max’s first season which meant that he would inevitably experience a learning curve along with his much younger teammates. He adjusted very quickly and can easily be classed with a lot of the high quality CBs in USL League One. He was quite occupied this season, completing 21 tackles, 99 clearances, 32 interceptions, and 23 blocks – the highest numbers for NCFC by some distance. Big numbers can be deceiving as they don’t inherently equal quality, but Max has worked hard to make sure that the numbers aren’t the only thing in his favor. Let’s take a look at some of his qualities are and what he can bring to the team.
North Carolina’s identity in possession is largely built around building play out of the back and Max is the perfect CB for this role. While he’s certainly more comfortable on the ball with his right foot, he’s got a good first touch with both feet and is great at making space for himself, receiving the ball on his back foot and able to take good, progressive touches and can get out of trouble pretty easily because of his technical quality. He is also very good at making himself available for passes, positioning himself well to be a release valve for teammates under pressure or just to move the ball forward. Max completed 88% of his dribbles this season and 87% of his passes. 87% is incredibly accurate for someone who’s made over 1200 passes (only 2 defenders have completed more passes) and that great passing percentage can somewhat be attributed to the system he plays in. NCFC typically play their CBs somewhat wide in the first phase of build-up (they often have the goalkeeper playing as a 3rd man near them to help create 3v2s or 3v3s in pressing situations) and recycle possession between them and the nearby fullbacks until a line-breaking pass can be made into the midfield or until a long pass opens up.
Below you can see a few pass maps that give you an idea of how NCFC want Max to play. All of these maps are from the center back position. You can see in the first two, that Max’s tendency is to pass sideways and out wide to the Fullbacks on an average game (First screenshot is against 0-0 GVL, second is from the 1-0 to NC against Madison), with a few long balls mixed in. The third pass map is from arguably one of his best performances as a center back this season in a 0-0 draw against Richmond. You can see that his passing ability was on full display that day, slicing into the Richmond midfield, helping his team get into dangerous positions (you can see one of those passes in the picture below). These types of passes make Max such an important part of the NCFC offensive build up. Having Center backs who can make these plays really opens ups defenses in dangerous ways. While he played full back some, you could tell he seemed more comfortable away from the final third. He put in two successful crosses for the entire season (he had a cross called for offside that was an absolute beauty to Aziel Jackson) and was not a regular customer in the final third.
When it comes to physical and mental attributes, Max is quite the interesting player. Coming in at 6’0 and 165 lbs, he’s not the biggest defender or consequently, the most aggressive defender in the league, but what he lacks in the brute force department he makes up for in terms of his positioning, reflexes, acceleration, and ability to scan. His awareness of his surroundings is honestly what makes him so ready to react to the sundry of situations he has to deal with. These attributes seem to always have him in the right place at the right time, even on his bad days. Chattanooga away is always a tough time, but Max could be seen giving his all throughout with good positioning and keeping his eyes up to know when the danger is coming and clear it. The picture below gives an example of just how good Flick is at sniffing out danger. This was a dangerous ball from out wide that Flick is able to get a couple of touches on and clear before the Chattanooga attacker can get near it in the box. He times a very difficult interception perfectly and completely removes any danger.
While Max isn’t the fastest person on the pitch over the full stretch, he does have good acceleration that allows him to cover the ground necessary to be ready to defend, especially in transitions. The only time this can be an issue is when he’s defending wide areas, which I will explain later. Along with good acceleration, he has great stamina averaging 88 minutes per game over 25 starts. He just doesn’t seem to get tired. His aerial ability is also to be noted, especially on set pieces, as he was a constant threat, scoring a headed goal and putting many more headers on target throughout the season. In defense he was not as efficient, but that could simply be down to the huge gap in sample size between offense and defense rather than actual decent comparisons.
There are a couple of areas of improvement in his game, which is natural for a player adjusting to a new league as well as being as busy as he was. A little work could be done in 1v1 situations as he only won 49% of his ground duels and 52% of his aerial duels last season (these are both pretty low for a League One CB). These numbers have probably been skewed by his time at full back as he didn’t defend out wide as well as he did centrally this year. He struggled a bit with quick changes of direction and intense speed when he played out wide as he could be caught flat footed and this could put his team under pressure (he was dribbled past 0.9 per game and most of these came from wide positions. This isn’t SUPER high for a fb, but it’s definitely not low either. He was rarely dribbled past as a cb). In a game against North Texas, this was especially prevalent, allowing attackers into the seam after being caught flat footed on a few occasions. He’s also a little bit prone to rash moments with the third highest yellow card tally in L1. That being said, it’s hard to belittle these numbers too much when you see how much he was relied upon in this system. It was no cakewalk being Max Flick the NCFC defender this year and despite the lower percentages, I think the team becoming a more cohesive unit will improve these numbers naturally. It’s so important to keep in mind that despite his maturity, Flick is still a rookie in League One and it always takes time to adjust.
Max Flick: A composed ball playing CB, he’s proactive and intelligent in defense, has good technical quality and passing range, and is an important part of how NCFC want to play offensively. You can see how his time as a midfielder has influenced his ball carrying and passing ability to great effect. Max might hope to be less busy defensively this next season so that he can focus on what he does best. Obviously, one season isn’t a perfect measurement to completely determine the quality of a player, but all the signs point to a very promising player that has quickly become a leader on and off the field in a very young NCFC team. He’s already known as “Club Legend” Max Flick by NCFC fans, which says a lot about the work he’s put in for his club. He will definitely be looking to cement himself as one of the most reliable ball playing defenders in USL League One next season and this new contract is a great platform to build upon his great first season. He’s definitely a center back to keep eyes on over the next couple of years!