Orangeburg, NY – Happy captain, happy team.
While it is not viable to verify the latter assertion, the former has been clearly confirmed.
“I’m happy to be back there,” New York City FC captain Alex Ring said with a smile after training on Wednesday.
One could assume that the interpretation of Ring’s statement was directed toward the victory column – the Pigeons won their first two matches of the season over the past two weeks. However, the Helsinki, Finland native was suggesting something more personal.
Ring began the year in a more advanced midfield role and responded with two goals over the first three matches of the season – the second scores in both a 2-2 draw at Orlando City and a 2-2 result against LAFC at Yankee Stadium.
But New York City wasn’t winning, failing to secure a three-point result until MLS week eight. In that 2-0 triumph at Audi Field, Ring was positioned in the more customary role of the No. 6 – denying the advances of D.C. United’s twin terrors – Wayne Rooney and Luciano Acosta.
“I will play where Dome (head coach Torrent) puts me to play but I think everyone knows my position is in front of the back three, back four whatever you want to call it,” Ring said. “I’m happy with it.”
In the last four matches, Ring has returned “back there” to holding midfielder, providing vital cover for the group at the back which has been altered during a stretch of five matches without a defeat – the second longest active run in MLS.
In regard to the modification from four at the back to a three-back system, Torrent had a simple explanation.
“If you play all the time 4-3-3, 4-2-3-1 and you are not able to win any game, you need to change, no?” Torrent said. “We have the right players to play in this system.”
Especially with the acquisition of Brazilian striker, Héber, whose presence has provided a comfort level and more quality chances on the attacking side of the ball.
“That’s one of the biggest differences in the last four games, we’ve played with a true No. 9,” Ring said. “If Maxi (Moralez) has to play there, I have to play higher and players are out of position. We’ll do our best and all the other players will as well. But it’s like me being comfortable playing in my position and I think Maxi’s happy to be back where he can control the game a little more.”
At 5-11, Héber does not have a classic No. 9 frame, but his ability to keep the ball with his back to goal has benefits that are far reaching for the City attack.
“The players who play in the second line play much better because they have more time to win the second ball because our striker can keep the ball,” Torrent said.
That includes Moralez who has recorded a pair of assists in the last three matches – and it was the Argentine’s ability to receive the ball between the lines that enabled his freedom on a shot saved off the post by Brian Rowe in NYCFC’s last match against Orlando City. Héber was alert to pounce on the rebound and rally his club to a 1-1 draw.
“You know how important it is when you play with the right player as a striker,” Torrent said. “He helps us when we have problems – he’s able to keep the ball. He assists and scores the goals.”
“Héber’s doing a fantastic job,” Ring said. “It helps us to have someone who can keep the ball up top.”
And helps to keep the leader in a cheerful frame of mind.
Héber is expected to make his fourth consecutive start on Saturday when New York City visits the Montreal Impact. Kick-off is 5pm ET.