[MLS] In the second installment of ranking each MLS team by position, the defensive units are presented. Performance, depth and consistency are the criteria used to evaluate the caliber of personnel.
1. LOS ANGELES. Preseason ranking: 3. The mix of experience (Gregg Berhalter, Todd Dunivant) and youth (Omar Gonzalez, Sean Franklin, A.J. DeLaGarza) is formidable. How Coach Bruce Arena uses Brazilians Leonardo and Alex Cazumba and how well Berhalter (age 37) fares down the stretch will dictate whether Los Angeles plays in a second straight MLS Cup.
2. COLUMBUS. Preseason: 2. None of the regulars have started more than 15 of the Crew’s 19 games, so there’s been more miscommunication and glitches than in the past two seasons. This is still a solid unit, and experience of Frankie Hejduk, Chad Marshall and Gino Padula is a major plus. The positioning of Andy Iro is still a work-in-progress, but the Crew doesn’t foul a lot.
3. REAL SALT LAKE. Preseason: 7. Tony Beltran has been getting some time at outside back, which gives RSL more depth to an already strong back line anchored by probably the best central tandem in the league, Nat Borchers and Jamison Olave. Robbie Russell and Chris Wingert play the flanks smartly, especially at Rio Tinto Stadium, where RSL has conceded only six goals in 11 games this season.
4. FC DALLAS. Preseason: 7. A converted midfielder (George John) and a past MLS Cup champion (Ugo Ihemelu, Galaxy 2005) are flanked by internationals Jair Benitez (Colombia) and Heath Pearce (USA). The latter two are very good passers and seldom beaten for pace. FCD has permitted the fewest shots (166) in MLS.
5. SEATTLE. Preseason: 4. The central pairing of Jeff Parke and Pat Ianni is coming together, but they’ve yet to match the play of Jhon Kennedy Hurtado (injured and out for the season) and Tyrone Marshall (inconsistent) last year. Outside backs James Riley and Leo Gonzalez have played the most minutes of any Seattle field player.
6. COLORADO. Preseason: 16. The acquisition of Marvell Wynne and a solid second MLS season for Julien Baudet has complemented the competent, underrated play of Drew Moor and Kosuke Kimura. Left back is a concern, especially with left mid Colin Clark out for the season with a torn ACL. The Rapids have conceded just one goal in the last 15 minutes of games, the fewest in MLS during that phase.
7. NEW YORK. Preseason: 14. The quartet of Roy Miller, Carlos Mendes, Tim Ream and Chris Albright is probably the best in the league at playing balls out of the back; fronted by Rafa Marquez, they can carry New York deep in the playoffs if they cut down on mistakes and shots conceded (259, most in the league).
8. KANSAS CITY. Preseason: 10. A poor record (5-9-5) and goal difference (minus 7) is not the fault of the defense, which ranks in the middle with 22 goals allowed in 19 games (1.17 per game) and shutouts (7). Shavar Thomas was acquired to play in the middle alongside veteran Jimmy Conrad after Colombian Pablo Escobar, an offseason acquisition, failed to make the grade and was jettisoned July 1. Since then, KC has won only twice in seven games despite conceding just six goals; it has scored only four, and both wins were 1-0 games.
9. TORONTO FC. Preseason: 15. Adrian Cann and Nana Attakora have played well, for the most part, but foreign additions Maxim Usanov and Raivis Hscanovics are mediocre and veteran Nick Garcia is adequate. A terrible away record (1-7-1) can be blamed on a defense that has allowed 16 goals in those nine games. On the plus side, Dan Gargan has matured into a very reliable right back.
10. CHICAGO. Preseason: 11. The return of left back Gonzalo Segares, who left MLS six months ago to play in Cyprus, could be the missing piece for Chicago. Offseason signing Krzysztof Krol Krol has been okay but loses too many one-v-one duels. Wilman Conde is among the league’s best and his central partner, C.J. Brown, is long on experience but short on speed.
11. SAN JOSE. Preseason: 12. A broken foot suffered by rookie Ike Opara is just one injury head coach Frank Yallop has dealt with while trying to instill defensive stability. Four different players have started at right back, Bobby Convey filled in for Ramiro Corrales (injured) last week on the left corner, and both Jason Hernandez and sometimes midfielder Brandon McDonald have been shuffled around to plug holes.
12. CHIVAS USA. Preseason: 5. Ex-Galaxy defender Michael Umana and fellow Costa Rican Dario Delgado are the centerpieces of coach Martin Vasquez’s defensive makeover, which hasn’t gone so well. The back line often looks out of sync, though there’s plenty of experience with those two players as well as Jonathan Bornstein, Ante Jazic and Mariano Trujillo. Time is fast running out to get it right.
13. HOUSTON. Preseason: 1. Only centerback Bobby Boswell has played well and avoided injury this season. Breakdowns in the middle have prompted coach Dominic Kinnear to move Geoff Cameron into defense rather than the playmaking midfield role he’d been expected to fill. Left back Mike Chabala has yet to match the high standards of Wade Barrett, who retired this year to become an assistant coach.
14. NEW ENGLAND. Preseason: 6. The smooth central partnership enjoyed by Darrius Barnes and Emmanuel Osei last season has seldom been revived, and while right back Kevin Alston is as tenacious as ever, left back has been a rotation of rookie Seth Sinovic, Chris Tierney and recently Cory Gibbs. Yet recent results are encouraging; the Revs won all their SuperLiga group games by 1-0 scores, and they’ve beaten D.C. and Houston by the same result in their last two league games.
15. PHILADELPHIA. Constancy is supposed to be a staple of a strong back line, but not so for the Union. Breakdowns have been frequent despite Michael Orozco Fiscal, Danny Califf and Jordan Harvey all having started 18 of Philly’s 19 games. Midseason addition Juan Diego Gonzalez has shown well in his three games to date.
16. D.C. UNITED. It’s hard to believe how bad D.C. has been defensively in the second half but the stats are there: seven goals conceded between the 46th and 60th minutes (tied for worst in the league) and 14 in the final quarter of an hour (by far the most). Juan Manuel Pena didn’t make the adjustment to MLS, Dejan Jakovic and Carey Talley have struggled through tough seasons.