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Alex Ring Has Successfully Replaced Andoni Iraola. How has he done it?

The Finn arrived with a big task ahead of him: providing a critical link between defense and attack. Let’s see what the numbers tell us about how he’s fared.

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Alex Ring came in as a relatively unheralded addition to New York City FC, especially with all the preseason hype around youth squad midfielder James Sands. It’s clear, however, that Ring has been a twofold asset to NYCFC: playing major minutes, he’s helped decrease the number of goals conceded while allowing them to play out of the back more effectively.

Ring was brought in to replace Andoni Iraola, who had made a midseason switch from fullback to defensive midfield last year. Inspired by my comparison of Maxi Moralez and Frank Lampard, I decided to juxtapose Iraola’s 2016 performance and Alex Ring’s 2017 performance so far.

About 45% of the season has gone by, which gives us a sufficient sample size to compare their production. What I found probably doesn't shock you: Ring has been the superior performer. (All statistics from WhoScored)

Attacking

Alex Ring’s 2017 offensive production compared to Andoni Iraola’s 2016 offensive production

At a cursory glance, it might look like Iraola has outperformed Ring. On a per-90 basis, however, Ring dominates. As for goals and assists, Ring doesn’t have any yet, but constantly finds himself in the mix in the danger area (he’s hit the woodwork for good measure, too). Overall, Ring has been a more efficient attacker than Iraola.

Defending

Alex Ring’s 2017 defensive production compared to Andoni Iraola’s 2016 defensive production

The defensive metrics are a little harder to examine. Iraola dominated the raw number statistics because he has played more games, but Ring surpasses Iraola in defensive actions per 90 minutes. A big part of that is a significant increase in tackles— a defensive midfielder in this system must be able to break up play, and Ring’s elite work rate makes it possible. Defensively, we give the nod to Ring over Iraola.

Passing

Alex Ring’s 2017 offensive production compared to Andoni Iraola’s 2016 offensive production. (LB is long ball. TB is through ball. Advanced Passes consist of long balls, through balls, and crosses)

Once again, Iraola dominates the raw number statistics, but Ring is more efficient. Considering the specific demands of Patrick Vieira’s buildup style — and that longtime fullback Iraola didn’t have sufficient time to learn an entirely new position last year — Ring is the smarter fit for this team in ball distribution. Another affirmation of his tireless work rate? Nearly doubling Iraola in advanced passes completed (APC) per 90 minutes.

Final Analysis

Alex Ring has far surpassed expectations in his first season with New York City, whether judging by the eye test or the minute-by-minute stats. The key is that he fits Vieira’s system far better because he is more adept at snuffing out counterattacks and switching play.

Perhaps what’s been most telling is his high usage: at 1254 minutes played, he’s been on the field more than David Villa, Jack Harrison, or Rodney Wallace, trailing only Maxi Moralez (1344 minutes) among outfield players. Any way you slice it, Ring’s youth and athleticism will be essential for NYCFC in an eventual playoff run. When his pistons are pumping, this team is tough to beat.