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Analysis: How Birk Risa will stabilize the NYCFC defense

The 25-year-old central defender is composed, tall, and doesn't make errors. What isn't there to love?

Welcome to New York City, Baby | Photo courtesy TSG Hoffenheim

Just a few days after announcing the acquisition of Algerian striker Mounsef Bakrar, New York City FC officially added Norwegian defender Birk Risa to the squad this morning. The 25-year-old is signed through 2025 with an option for 2026.

NYCFC was in need of another center-back after center-back Alexander Callens left the club in January. Tony Alfaro was brought in to bolster the squad’s backline, but he didn’t find regular minutes under head coach Nick Cushing, and was traded to LA Galaxy last week for up to $500,000 in General Allocation Money.

Risa looks to be an immediate improvement on Alfaro. More importantly, his composure, passing skills, and ability to help the attack could fill the Callens-sized hole in NYCFC’s lineup.

Birk Risa signs with NYCFC

Dominant on the ground and in the air

Risa, a 6′ 2″ center-back who played for Molde FK in the Eliteserien, operates predominantly on the left side of the back line. Serving as either a left-back or left-sided center-back, the Norwegian provides a strong, physical presence in defense.

In 13 matches for Molde FK in 2022/23, Risa averaged 4.0 duels won per match, 2.4 on the ground, and 1.6 in the air. 

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Composed in defense

In addition to the Norwegian’s physical stature, the 25-year-old also possesses immense composure, a trait that this NYCFC defense sorely needs. With 1.9 clearances per match, and zero errors leading to shots or goals in 2022/23, his presence at the back should provide greater stability, a backline that can be inconsistent and skittish.

Last season, Risa conceded zero penalties, while making on average 2.0 tackles and 0.8 interceptions per match.

Birk Risa Defending 2022/23





Possession Won/Game


Dribbled Past/Game




Error Led To Shot


Error Led To Goal


Penalities Committed


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A forward-thinking defender

Outside of his defending, Risa also holds a keen eye for a forward pass, with the Norwegian averaging 3.8 accurate long balls and 3.5 accurate chip passes per match, as well as a 79% pass accuracy rate in the opposition’s half.

As NYCFC continues to play out from the back, expect Risa to slide seamlessly into that tactical fold.

Birk Risa Attacking 2022/23

Expected Assists/Game




Big Chances Created


Key Passes/Game


Passing Accuracy


Passing Accuracy in Own Half


Passing Accuracy in Attacking Half


Chipped Pass/Game


Accurate Long Ball/Game


He even scores on occasion. He found the back of the net three times in 63 appearances for Molde, including this set-piece goal last year:

After spending time in the academy of Bundesliga side Koln, Risa returned to his home country for regular first-time game time with Odds BK and now Molde FK. At just 25 years old, Risa brings much experience from both domestic and continental competition. He has an average match rating of 7.06 in the Eliteserien, and 7.11 in the Europa Conference League, according to SofaScore.

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