By Ridge Mahoney
The land of left backs is a forbidding place, since just about every team has at least one good right-sided attacker that has to be contained.
Overloading offensive players into this area of the field is a common tactic, which presents a series of critical decisions to the left back about when to drop, when to step up, when to tuck inside, when to close down what might be a cross or shot. The left back must also chase down balls into the corners, square off with dribblers much of the time, and hang tough at the back post when crosses are launched from the opposite flank. Those who can handle all these duties and occasionally help out in the attack are of high value.
The rankings for the 2012 season are based on MLS games only. Statistics, level of performance, and contribution to team success are the primary criteria.
SA's Top 10 MLS 2012 Left Backs
1. Heath Pearce (New York)
2. Seth Sinovic (Sporting Kansas City)
3. Justin Morrow (San Jose)
4. Todd Dunivant (Los Angeles)
5. Chris Wingert (Real Salt Lake)
6. Jair Benitez (FC Dallas)
7. Corey Ashe (Houston)
8. Mark Burch (Seattle)
9. Alain Rochat (Vancouver)
10. Gonzalo Segares (Chicago)
There was a lot more blame than praise thrown toward the Red Bulls this season; though they fizzled down the stretch and stumbled in the Western Conference semifinals, Heath Pearce soldiered on gallantly for both New York and Chivas USA, which sent him east in May. He played in central defense as well as midfield before settling at left back and though he's not the attacking equal of a few counterparts he's probably the better soccer player.
He's very expensive ($299,492) for a U.S. defender, and Chivas USA paid part of his salary last year, so moves are forthcoming if NYRB wants to keep him.
Lining up to the left of childhood teammate Matt Besler, Seth Sinovic gave SKC quickness and smarts though he can still sharpen his tackling. Justin Morrow toggled between left back and center back while starting and finishing all but one game. Todd Dunivant scrapped through a rough start, as did his teammates, then played a string of very solid games all the way to MLS Cup 2012. Chris Wingert kept his place in the top tier of MLS left backs in a frustrating season for RSL.
Benitez can still run and attack but the outbursts and errors also persist. Former midfielder Ashe is a rugged tackler with speed who will join the elite with a bit more experience. Burch has a great left foot and tackles well; more consistency is needed. Rochat shifted into midfield during the season as the Whitecaps tried to fix what probably wasn't broken. Segares was once the king of this position but this year blew assignments and missed tackles.