When Alex Ring scored his first goal of the season, a goal that proved to be the winner against Columbus Crew SC, the New York City FC captain turned to the empty stands at Red Bull Arena and put his finger to his mouth.
It was a spontaneous reaction he said, meant to silence the critics.
“Everyone has a right to their opinion. But I think it's easy to say stuff, hard to say it into my face and into the face of the team,” Ring said after the game. “It felt good to win, good to score. It was just something spontaneous. It comes with the role I have. For example, when things aren’t going our way, it’s my responsibility and I take that. It’s fine with me.”
There were also plenty of NYCFC critics through the early portion of their season in which they won just one of their first six games, scoring just two goals and losing four 1-0 games. That stretch included an emotional derby defeat to the New York Red Bulls.
But on Monday night, against previously unbeaten Crew SC, NYCFC silenced their critics as a team with a performance Ring said “went back to the roots [of] the way we want to play.”
That was the message the team’s leadership group — Ring, Maxime Chanot, Sean Johnson, Anton Tinnerholm, Maxi Moralez and Heber — shared in a meeting with first-year head coach Ronny Deila after the Red Bulls loss.
“They were very clear that we have to go a little bit back to basics and what we are about with being on the front foot, attacking, pressing high up in the pitch and play from behind and all these different things,” Deila said.
“Coming in I think it was important for us to just really stick to the things that made us successful in the past and we dug deep. I think there was a real fight tonight, a real commitment to playing,” Johnson added. “I think you can see all around the pitch, nobody was scared, nobody backed down and everybody was always on the front foot. That’s what we're going to need going forward to grab a hold of games and and win and win convincingly.”
Deila had said throughout the season that despite the losses, NYCFC were capable of beating any team in the league, pointing to an MLS is Back Tournament Round of 16 victory over Toronto FC and this win over Columbus as the prime examples.
He believes it's a win that can be the starting point and a bit of momentum they can take into their next match on Saturday (7:30 pm ET | MLS LIVE on ESPN+ in US, on DAZN in Canada) against Chicago Fire FC.
In many ways, beating Columbus was a statement win and it was NYCFC’s embattled captain who led the charge.
“The way we've played this year is no reflection on him as a captain. I think he's a great leader. He puts his best foot forward. He steps up in big moments like you saw today, and he's, a true leader in moments where we need him,” Johnson said of Ring. “We all support him, through and through. Critics will talk and when we're doing well everybody will be behind us and in rough moments I think everybody will look to point fingers. But I think he's a solid part of this team. He has the utmost respect of the players.”