The Austin Chronicle

Alex Ring Isn’t Austin FC’s Captain Anymore, and That’s Just Fine With Him

The steely Finn is staying in the now

By Eric Goodman, February 16, 2024, Features

Amid the hype and optimism (misplaced as it was) that colored the start of Austin FC’s 2023 season, a tinge of controversy lingered around the club. Head coach Josh Wolff opted to name Sebastián Driussi captain for the club’s third season in Major League Soccer. In a vacuum, the decision made perfect sense. Driussi was fresh off a 25-goal, MVP runner-up campaign and had just signed a long-term contract extension to remain the face of the team for the years to come.

But what of the man Driussi was replacing in the role? Alex Ring, the club’s first-ever captain, what did he make of the swap? In short, we never got to know. Ring opted out of all media opportunities in 2023, leaving fans only to speculate over the steely Finn’s thoughts.

That is, until now. Earlier this month, while Austin FC conducted preseason activities in Coachella Valley, Calif., Ring sat down for an exclusive interview with the Chronicle over Zoom from the team’s hotel. In his first public comments in over a year, the midfielder cleared the air on the drama surrounding the captain’s armband.

“I mean, it’s simple. Josh decided to make a change, which is, you know, no problem for me,” a relaxed Ring said. “I haven’t always been captain, and I don’t think it changes you much. There’s a saying, or I remember a senior player once told me that, you know, it’s a piece of cloth. And, of course, I was proud to be the first captain here. But in the end, it won’t make you play better. Or play worse.”

Ring revealed that no specific conversations took place between him and Driussi regarding the captaincy, nor were they necessary, he feels.

“We’re all professionals. I’m 32, you know? No need to sugarcoat it. And for me, like I said, it wasn’t a problem at all. It didn’t change my role with how I interact with the group,” Ring said. “I think, you know, if Seba wanted [the captaincy], that’s great. You need players who want that leadership. He leads us on the field in a different way, by his play, so I think it’s fantastic.”

It doesn’t take much time around Ring to understand that he’s the kind of person who doesn’t waste words. More often than not, he keeps his thoughts to himself. But when he speaks, it’s for a purpose. It’s a quality he shares with another famous Finnish sportsman: racing driver Kimi Raikkonen, whom Ring calls his “idol.” Nobody ever mistook Raikkonen for a chatterbox, either.

“People might view you as cold, but I think it’s more just knowing what you want, where you’re at, who you are, and I feel good about that,” Ring explained. “You can make all these assumptions, but you won’t know what’s really in my mind, right?”

At the same time, if Ring’s feelings toward the captaincy switch were so benign, why not just share them at the time and kill off the assumptions before they arise?

“I would say mostly, I kind of knew what the conversation was going to be around. And I think the way the season went, you know, I think it wasn’t the Pandora’s box that needed to be opened. Because for me, that was never an issue. I think it was made a bigger deal by other people, not by myself,” Ring said.

Ring isn’t sure how much, if any, media he’ll do this season. He made himself available often during the 2021 and 2022 seasons, a captain’s obligation he chafed at. If cliches and coachspeak are what you’re after, Ring isn’t your man.

“If I don’t have anything to say, I don’t want to be that guy who says these typical phrases that are being said after won games, after lost games, and I felt like that was a lot of what I was required to do,” he said. “It comes with the job.”

After filling in admirably and without complaint at center back for much of the 2023 season, Ring is looking forward to a return to consistent minutes in the Verde midfield this year. Physically, he feels better than he’s felt entering a season in years, he said. Mentally, the focus is on enjoying the moment.

“I remember when I was younger, you dream, you want to play [in the UEFA] Champions League and all these things. And it’s just important to stay in the now,” Ring said.

The “now” concerns Austin FC’s fourth season. Ring is one of just seven players still on the roster that were with the club on day one, back in 2021. He’s one of just four to have made 100 appearances for the club. And while it might look to the outside observer that the 32-year-old is currently caught up in a rebuild in Austin, Ring sees it differently.

“Honestly, if you think about it, MLS as a whole would be a rebuild every year because there’s no other soccer league in the world that has as much player turnover as here. So if you want to call it a rebuild because of that, I agree. But every team is dealing with the same thing year after year. I think that’s the thing I find intriguing.”

Ring is among the first to admit that last season’s 12th-place finish simply wasn’t good enough for the Verde and Black. He’s as motivated as anyone to reach the MLS Cup Playoffs this year, but the days of him letting the stresses of top-flight soccer bleed into his home life are long gone.

“Once I come home, I think my family deserves my full attention. You know, I’m away a lot and I love spending time with them,” Ring said. Both of his young children play soccer around Austin, and Ring enjoys that the city retains much of the laid-back lifestyle he grew accustomed to in Finland, but without the months of snow.

“I’m proud to be here since day one. You know, it’s a fantastic club, fantastic city,” Ring said. “It’s my fourth year already so yeah, I mean, Austin is home.”

The Verde Report’s weekly column will return next week. Want the latest Austin FC news delivered straight to your inbox? Click here to subscribe to the Verde Report Newsletter.

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