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2024 NYCFC Player Preview: Birk Risa

He didn't set a foot wrong after joining the team in 2023: Will the center-back pick up where he left off?

NYCFC center-back Birk Risa in 2024 preseason training | Courtesy
Name: Birk Risa
Position: Central Defender
Age: 25
Key Stat: 10.99 – that's the number of long pass attempts per 90 minutes

Following a switch from Molde in July 2023, Birk Risa quickly became a mainstay of the New York City FC defense at the end of last year. Risa was productive the final games of the season, but much more is expected of the Norwegian ahead of his first full campaign in 2024.

Birk Risa headlines a revitalized backline

After the left-footed central defender joined the club to replace the departed Alexander Callens, the club made a desperate push for the MLS Cup Playoff spots. It almost worked. The 25-year-old Norwegian (who turns 25 next on February 13, 2024) made 10 appearances for the Boys in Blue, all starts, and logged 862 minutes.

Across those minutes played, Risa provided head coach Nick Cushing’s side with a new edge. His playmaking ability and keen eye for a pass created a new dynamic for NYCFC, particularly when playing out from the back. 

Risa maintained an 86% pass accuracy rating across his 10 starts, but it’s his knack for delivering long balls that really stands out. The Norwegian made 10.99 long pass attempts per 90 minutes, and completed 4.8 of those. He also made 3.0 accurate chipped passes per 90 minutes. With his success rate hovering around 50% in both those statistics, the progressive side of Risa’s play ability quickly became a crucial part of Cushing’s tactics at the back end of the season.

While the Norwegian’s passing ability is what sets him apart, Risa’s defensive ability can’t be overlooked. Risa was part of a defense that delivered five clean sheets across his 10 MLS matches. In that stretch, he won 3.9 defensive duels per game — 1.5 on the ground and 2.4 in the air. The Norwegian also maintained a powerful presence at the back, only being dribbled past 0.5 times per game, while also recording 3.1 clearances per game.

A greater role in 2024

Despite the small sample size, Risa’s ability was on full display for fans of NYCFC in 2023. Risa made little work of adjusting to life in the MLS, failing to put a foot wrong in his 10 starts. 

Still, it was a disappointing season overall. NYCFC failed to make the playoffs for just the second time in club history, and the minimum expectation for 2024 is a postseason appearance. 

Risa is no stranger to championship expectations. The defender won the Norwegian League two Norwegian Cups with Molde: Risa understands what it takes to bring home silverware. 

You can expect the defender to take on a much more significant role in 2024, not only in the backline, but in the locker room. With NYCFC’s transfer strategy aiming at younger signings with high ceilings, Risa will be looked at by Cushing and his staff to provide some stability and consistency if the club wants to climb back up the MLS pyramid.