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Alex Ring, Tomás Pochettino among most important players for Austin FC success in year one

Mike Craven
Austin American-Statesman

In a city filled with new arrivals, Austin FC is the latest addition to the ATX. Major League Soccer’s 27th franchise, the club starts its season on the road against Los Angeles FC on April 17 in front of a national television audience with the game airing at 4:30 CST on Fox. Head coach Josh Wolff and sporting director Claudio Reyna spent a year putting together a competitive roster with playoff hopes in Austin FC’s inaugural season. 

Last week, we introduced the roster by position. Today, we take a look at the five most important players to Austin FC’s success in year one. 

1. Alex Ring, defensive midfielder, No. 8

The captain takes on great responsibility for a soccer club, and it is a role Ring is comfortable in after wearing the armband in the past for New Yourk City FC. A native of Helsinki, Finland, Ring played two seasons with Helsinki HJK from 2010 to 2011, playing in 43 games and contributing six goals. He propelled the squad to its most successful season in 2011, winning the Suomen Cup and Finnish Veikkausliiga. He then moved onto the German side FC Kaiserslautern, tallying 83 appearances including UEFA Champions and Europa League starts.

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Austin FC midfielder Alex Ring turns upfield during a preseason training session at St. Edward's University. As a central defensive midfielder, Ring will provide defensive cover for the team's center backs.

Ring moved to the MLS before the 2017 season. Through four seasons, he’s started 119 games, scoring 10 goals and adding 13 assists in regular season play. He led NYCFC in regular season minutes in 2020 and was tied for the team league in minutes in 2019. Ring was selected to the 2018 MLS All-Star game and is considered one of the best defensive midfielders in the league. 

If there is a danger spot on the Austin FC roster, it is on defense. Matt Besler is a former all-star, but he’s in the last years of his career. The other center back position is up for grabs. Ring will slot in front of Besler and his defensive partner, helping clean up any offensive threats before an opposing goal scorer can reach the goalie’s box. Ring is an excellent ball-winner and is capable of starting the offense with quick, accurate passes after regaining possession. 

Photos:Austin FC goes through preseason training sessions

2. Tomás Pochettino, attacking midfielder, No. 7

Finding defenders is easier than attackers, so Austin FC spent more money on the offensive side of the game, including the addition of Pochettino as the club’s second designated player. He required a fee of $2.5 million from Talleres, a club in the Argentine league. The 5-10, 157-pound Pochettino was described as an offensive player in the final third of the field who is very creative in terms of developing attacks and scoring goals, according to Reyna. He’s also responsible on the defensive end and can hurt opponents with his dribble, pass and shot. Pochettino needs to be at full force for Austin FC to threaten the top clubs in the Western Conference. Cecilio Domínguez, the club’s first designated player, could also work in this spot on the list. 

3. Danny Hoesen, striker, No. 9

Hoesen is a proven goalscorer who was the first pick in the 2020 MLS Expansion Draft. He was acquired to score goals for Austin FC, and the veteran striker from the Netherlands must accept that responsibility to propel the club into contention. He spent the previous three seasons with the San Jose Earthquakes. Hoesen made 110 appearances for the club, including 68 starts, but his run was ended due to a leg injury in 2020. He wanted a new start, and found it in Austin. Hoesen received the No. 9 shirt from Austin FC and is expected to lead the front line for the club if healthy.  

Austin FC defender Jhohan Romaña tracks a ball during preseason training at St. Edward's University. Romaña is competing for a starting position at center back for the squad.

4. Jhohan Romaña, center back, No. 3

Besler is likely to start at one of the two center back spots. Ring should slot in front of the defenders as the first line of defense. The center backs will be flanked by MLS veterans such as Ben Sweat and Nick Lima. It’s the second center back spot that requires a conversation. Romaña is undoubtedly the defender of the future for Austin FC, but his evolution and ability to adjust to a new league at the age of 22 might determine the club’s 2021 success. A strong year from the big, athletic defender from Colombia puts Austin FC in great shape in defense. He emerged in 2020 as a capable defender with plenty of upside at 6-1 and 224 pounds.

5. Andrew Tarbell, goalie, no assigned number

The goalie competition is still ongoing at practice, so the club has not yet released numbers at that position with the winner likely to receive No. 1. Tarbell is the favorite to win that competition. He’s a five-year MLS veteran with plenty of starting experience. He was the primary backup in Columbus last season, starting six times for a club that won the 2020 MLS Cup. Previously, Tarbell was the starting net minder for San Jose from 2016 to 2019. Consistency is required at goalkeeper and Tarbell must provide that to fend off fellow veteran Brad Stuver and youngster Brady Scott.