The 25-year-old Norwegian central defender joins from Molde FK on a contract through 2025, with an option for 2026. Risa is left-footed and looks to be adept at progressing the ball out of the back. In the team’s official signing announcement, NYCFC sporting director David Lee said Risa’s “ability to play from the back will fit into our system and style of play.”
NYCFC have been missing this type of left-footed central defender since Alexander Callens left to sign with Girona FC this winter. It’s unfair to expect Risa to be an exact like-for-like replacement for one of NYCFC’s best-ever players and clutch PK master, but they may at least be stylistically comparable.
Risa has ample experience in Norway’s top division, with 95 appearances for Molde including games in UEFA’s Europa League and Europa Conference League. He joins Algerian striker Mounsef Bakrar as reinforcements for Nick Cushing’s struggling squad, which has just one win in their last 16 matches across all competitions and sits way down in 13th in the Eastern Conference table.
Stian André de Wahl of Nettavisen first linked Risa with a move to NYCFC back in April, and last week reported that Molde had accepted NYCFC’s bid of “well over ten million kroner” (over $1 million, then) for Risa. As is the norm, NYCFC did not disclose the transfer fee paid to Molde for Risa’s services, and we’ll have to wait for the next MLS player salary data drop to get a clearer picture of how the Nordic defender fits in financially.
Central defense has been a position in flux for most of NYCFC’s 2023 season. Maxime Chanot and Thiago Martins have missed a number of matches due to international call-ups and injuries, respectively, and that’s led to a rotating cast of fill-ins, most recently with midfielder Justin Haak learning center back on the fly. The team signed MLS veteran Tony Alfaro this winter, yet played him sparingly and just traded him to the LA Galaxy for up to $500,000 in allocation money, presumably to make room for Risa.
I asked Nick Cushing about his view on his team’s center back depth and the potential to add a player there ahead of the team’s match in Philadelphia, and NYCFC’s head coach said, in part:
Neither Thiago Martins nor Maxime Chanot have looked like ideal fits as left center backs when NYCFC have played with just four defenders, and it now looks as though Birk Risa will be expected to fill that role.