[BEST OF MLS 2011: Central midfielders] The men who play in the middle of field often dictate the outcomes of games, and among those players absolutely essential to their teams, Portland's Jack Jewsbury gave the expansion Portland Timbers everything he had.
SA's Top 10 Central Midfielders
1. Jack Jewsbury (Portland)
2. Juninho (Los Angeles)
3. Shalrie Joseph (New England)
4. Will Johnson (Real Salt Lake)
5. Geoff Cameron (Houston)
6. Daniel Hernandez (FC Dallas)
7. Brad Evans (Seattle)
8. Jeff Larentowicz (Colorado)
9. Ben Zemanski (Chivas USA)
10. Khari Stephenson (San Jose)
This category is a smorgasbord of differing types, alike primarily by their dual responsibilities in attack and defense. Not all of them bear those burdens equally well and so their ranking in part is determined by their effectiveness in whatever system they play, and also their ability to adapt when the game situation requires a change in their roles. Players not included here may have been classified as attacking midfielders or holding mids.
While these players sometimes are attacking catalysts, they are also given a large share of defensive duties. They are the two-way players who fill vital roles in the spine of a team.
Jewsbury’s inspirational performances as the Timbers’ captain nearly carried them into the playoffs, and had he a more consistent lineup around him Portland’s first year in MLS would have included a postseason showing. He led the team with eight assists and finished second in scoring with seven goals.
Juninho served as a distributor in the Galaxy attack when he wasn’t taking a long-range crack at goal or bottling up the middle. His poise and maturity gave the champion valuable time in possession to either build an attack or play keep-away.
Joseph’s eight goals topped the Revs as they missed the playoffs for the second season in a row; they parted ways with Coach Steve Nicol but signed Joseph to a new contract as a Designated Player.
Johnson’s two-way play gives RSL a midfield stability few teams in MLS can match, and the team’s diamond midfield often requires him to cover a lot of ground. Before being moved into the back line for the final portion of the season, Cameron’s midfield work complemented playmaker Brad Davis. Hernandez anchored the FCD midfield and picked his spots to get into the attack in the absence of David Ferreira. Evans fought through injuries (20 games, 17 starts) to score five goals and register five assists working box-to-box.
The pairing of Larentowicz and Pablo Mastroeni didn’t mesh as smoothly as did during the championship season of 2011 and Larentowicz is probably as surprised as anyone to lead the team with seven goals. Zemanski took on more defensive duties in the second half of the season and proved his value sufficiently to start 23 of his 28 appearances. Stephenson (five goals, four assists) tormented teams on the ball as well as trying to win it, and gave the Quakes some steel in midfield.
(These rankings are based on what a player did for his team in league and playoff games in 2011; other competitions or past seasons are not considered.)