NEW YORK — They are New York City FC’s Three Amigos.
Their differences and blue-collar mentality is the secret sauce for the Boys in Blue, according to Ring.
“Yangel is a box-to-box, he’s very young, physically very strong, still good on the ball,” Ring said. “Maxi is a typical No. 10, but still never too diva to do his defensive work, which is important. They make me look good and my job is much easier.”
Ring is the No. 6, the destroyer and distributor in front of the back four. After transferring from Kaiserslautern last February, the 26-year-old Finnish international started 29 matches in his first season with NYCFC.
Yangel Herrera, right, battles for possession with Sporting KC's Roger Espinoza | USA Today Sports Images
To illustrate the bite he provides, Ring’s 10 regular-season yellow cards were second only to David Guzman of Portland, who led the league with 11. His 55 fouls were good for 10th in MLS a season ago.
The partnership among the three formed roots a year, but it took some time to grow. Ring was called up to Finland’s national team for World Cup qualifiers, while Herrera, now 20, played in the U-20 World Cup for Venezuela, helping lead his side to a stunning upset of Germany in the opening match. Moralez, the elder statesman of the three at 31, battled a calf injury that sidelined him three weeks in the middle of the season.
They were in the same starting XI just seven times during the regular season in 2017. NYCFC earned four wins and three draws in those contests.
Now they’re all starting their second year in MLS on the same page after a full preseason, a luxury they didn't have last year.
“They are three really good players, really important players for the team,” NYCFC captain David Villa said. “They were last year very important players for the team. We missed them a lot when they were out for the national team or for some injuries or cards.”
In a 2-1 win over the LA Galaxy Sunday at Yankee Stadium, Ring and Herrera combined for nine tackles in the middle of the field. Ring completed 87 percent of his passes, third-best behind just central defender Alex Callens and fullback Ben Sweat among the starting XI.
NYCFC's Alexander Ring, right, makes a challenge on the LA Galaxy's Rolf Feltscher | USA Today Sports Images
Moralez had one of his better games for NYCFC, with a team-high four chances created from his 91 touches while putting two of his three shots on frame.
“I think we feel comfortable playing with one another. It’s very natural,” Ring said. “You don’t have to put too much effort in it. It’s in a good flow.”
NYCFC coach Patrick Vieira is quick to praise the others who are pushing Ring, Herrera and Moralez for places. That includes veteran and cult hero Tommy McNamara, on-loan 22-year-old Ghanaian Ebenezer Ofori and 22-year-old Kwame Awuah, the 16th overall selection in the 2017 MLS SuperDraft.
“When you look at all those players for these three positions, I think this is of course really good for us as a football club because we have players who are quite at the same level, so that will give me more rotation to give to the players,” Vieira said. “When you look at Maxi and Yangel last year, they didn’t do much in the preseason, so to have them from the first day and working with them, that was a plus for me and the team.”
Ring recognizes that depth is critical to combat injuries, suspensions and national team call-ups, and provide competition for places.
“It’s very important to have that depth, to have that competition because the World Cup is coming up this year and we’re going to have players who won’t be here and that’s when other players have to step up,” Ring said. “Or if someone has a dip in form, you have to hold the competition high in practice, in games when you get your chance. That’s the only way we’ll reach our goals.”