[BEST OF MLS 2011: Center Backs] The Galaxy conceded just 28 goals in 34 matches, thanks to a resilient defense led by Omar Gonzalez, the 2011 MLS Defender of the Year who also tops our Positional Rankings of center backs.
SA's Top 12 Center Backs
1. Omar Gonzalez (Los Angeles)
2. George John (FC Dallas)
3. Nat Borchers (Real Salt Lake)
4. Carlos Valdes (Philadelphia)
5. Jeff Parke (Seattle)
6. Jamison Olave (Real Salt Lake)
7. A.J. DeLaGarza (Los Angeles)
8. Chad Marshall (Columbus)
9. Bobby Boswell (Houston)
10. A.J. Soares (New England)
11. Jhon Kennedy Hurtado (Seattle)
12. Aurelien Collin (Sporting Kansas City)
No players on the field are more dependent on each other than defenders, and particularly essential is the communication and cohesion among those who play in the middle.
Most MLS teams feature a four-man back line, and in such systems the most successful central pairs work in unison, so assessing them individually often rewards one at the expense of the other.
One of the most important decisions by Galaxy coach Bruce Arena in 2011 was to move DeLaGarza, a college teammate of Gonzalez at the University of Maryland, from outside back into the middle when injuries sidelined Leonardo and Gregg Berhalter. The Galaxy set a league record by conceding just eight goals in 17 home games and led MLS with 17 shutouts.
In his third professional season, Gonzalez responded to the mentoring of Berhalter, a former U.S. international who took on coaching duties. He anticipated situations more, and relied less on his height (6-foot-5) and strength to chase down opponents, break up plays, and collect second balls.
John drew interest from the Greek national team, for which he could qualify on parentage, and English Premier League club Blackburn during a season marked by sharper concentration on and off the ball. Borchers soldiered on when injuries sidelined Olave and RSL gradually regained its swagger after a stumbling start. Valdes, a formed a solid partnership with Danny Califf to shore up what had been a very leaky Union defense in its expansion season, though both are prone to foul excessively.
Parke cut down on his mistakes and took on a more prominent leadership role when his partner, Hurtado, sat out injuries and suspensions. DeLaGarza’s speed, savvy and tenacity meshed well with Gonzalez’s attributes, and there were games where nearly nothing got through the middle to trouble the Galaxy goalies. Marshall and the Crew were strong at times but faded down the stretch as he topped the 200 mark in career appearances.
Boswell stepped up his game late in the season when a team makeover paired him with Geoff Cameron. Soares labored stoutly amid defensive breakdowns and collapses during a very difficult rookie season. Newcomer Collin needed some time to adjust to MLS, and overcame minor injuries to aid SKC’s late-season run of just four goals conceded in the final seven games.