The Verde Report: A Reflective Alex Ring Puts That Red Card in the Rear View
Following Austin FC's well-earned goalless draw against the Seattle Sounders Sunday night, Austin captain Alex Ring spoke to the media for the first time since his May 9 red card against Sporting Kansas City.
I asked him about that moment. He inhaled, took a moment to gather his thoughts, then delivered a clear message to his critics in the media and among fans: Put the blame where you like, but he isn't changing.
By any objective measure, Ring's red card marked a clear inflection point in Austin FC's debut season. When it occurred in the second half at Children's Mercy Park, Austin FC was flying its highest. Fresh off its first two victories, the club appeared headed for a third as it led Sporting KC 1-0 in the 67th minute. The Oaks had scored five goals through three and two-thirds matches and sat fourth in the Western Conference standings. Then Ring drew a second yellow card, and things began to unravel.
Playing with 10 men, Austin conceded two late goals to fall 2-1 to SKC. They have not scored a goal, let alone won a match, since.
"I'll take responsibility for the Kansas City game," Ring said Sunday. "I'm not going to apologize because I always play, give my everything for the team. You guys [the press] want to blame me, fans want to blame me for that game, that's fine. I don't care about that. I take responsibility for that.
"But to put the other results, performances, on me? If you think that's fair, fine. I couldn't care less," Ring said, the way people do when they actually care a great deal.
It is easy to empathize with Ring. We've all had lapses in our performance – at work, at home, at school – that catch more heat than they're worth. No, a defensive midfielder's error three and a half weeks ago is not the reason Austin FC lacks a true goalscorer. It's not the reason four out of 11 opening day starters have missed recent games with injuries.
But one wonders if Ring understands just how critically important he is to his new club. When he plays well, as he did in both early season victories and last weekend's draw in Seattle, Austin FC get results. When he plays poorly – or not at all, as was the case against LA Galaxy while Ring served his one-game suspension for the red card – Austin FC loses. His passing out of the midfield, connecting all three rows of Josh Wolff's 4-3-3 formation, is the key that unlocks ATXFC's attack. His effort and commitment in the defensive half makes a less-than-intimidating back line difficult to play against. His leadership speaks for itself.
"I know how this game works. I know the club supports me, the team supports me. They know I always give my best," Ring said. "It's my first red card in my club career. And I will learn from that mistake."
Other players with different personalities would shrug off a question about a moment from four games ago. Many would give a Belichickian, "We're on to FC Cincinnati" type of response. Not Alex Ring. Austin FC's captain will own his mistakes on the field. He'll just make sure you keep them in their proper context.
And if Ring wants to put the topic to bed for good, well, the gods of MLS scheduling have smiled upon him. After an idle weekend, Austin FC returns to the very site of Ring's red card, Children's Mercy Park, for a rematch against Sporting KC, Saturday, June 12. Expect a strong performance from the captain for the full 90 minutes this time.