By Ridge Mahoney
It’s been a while since MLS provided the U.S. national team with a capable pool of left backs.
While the likes ofJeff Agoos and Jonathan Bornsteinhave served the USA, the past few years have yet to produce a strong candidate. Yet this position, once among the league’s black holes in terms of talent, has matured along with the league.
Whether by converting midfielders to left backs -- Corey Ashe, Todd Dunivant, Chris Tierney -- or using versatile players on both corners -- Raymon Gaddis, Ashtone Morgan -- coaches have upgraded the fleet of players in this spot.
It’s a critical position, since MLS is rife with dangerous right-sided attackers who love to run at left backs, and games are decided by how well the left backs contain their corners. Overlapping runs and serves from midfield are an important facet of the attack for many teams, which is one reason midfielders who can track and tackle as well as pass wind up spending their pro careers on the back line.
The positional rankings are based on MLS performances during the 2013 season.
SA's Top 10 MLS Left Backs (2013)
1 (2) Seth Sinovic(Sporting Kansas City)
2. (NR) Chris Klute (Colorado Rapids)
3. (7) Corey Ashe(Houston Dynamo)
4. (5) Chris Wingert (Real Salt Lake)
5. (NR) Raymon Gaddis(Philadelphia Union)
6. (4) Todd Dunivant(Los Angeles Galaxy)
7. (NR) Leo Gonzalez (Seattle Sounders)
8. (NR) Chris Tierney(New England Revolution)
9. (NR) Michael Harrington (Portland Timbers)
10. (-) Jordan Stewart(San Jose Earthquakes)
Note: In parentheses 2012 ranking at position.
NR=not ranked in 2012; -=not in MLS in 2012.
Sinovic’s speed and experience have served SKC well since he returned to his hometown from New England in 2011. He’s also capable of big plays. In the 3-1 second-leg defeat of his former team in the conference semifinals, he scored with a low, searing shot, and MLS Cup 2013 might not have gone to penalties if Sinovic hadn’t blocked an Alvaro Saborio shot in the 85th minute.
Chris Klutearrived at Colorado last season on loan from NASL club Atlanta and took over the starting job this season. He’s a quick, smart defender who registered seven assists and at 23 has enormous room for growth. Ashe is a rugged tackler who gets forward to hit decent crosses and has formed a good partnership with midfielder Brad Davis. Chris Wingert missed a portion of the regular season and playoffs with injuries and though RSL coped reasonably well in his absence it traded backup Lovel Palmer. Wingert’s experience and leadership will be vital as the club moves forward without head coach Jason Kreis.
Gaddis is more suited to the right side yet is better than what many teams have on the left. He started all 31 of his appearances and though he provides little offense he’s not bad on the ball. Injuries affected Dunivant’s form though he did start all 25 of his appearances and launches dangerous balls into the box. Leo Gonzalez, voted by his teammates as the club’s Defender of the Year, signed a new contract this week after starting in 14 of the team’s 15 wins.
Tierney picked up five assists while shuttling between midfield and the back line. Michael Harrington played a lot of solid games, missing only one, for the second-best defensive team in MLS (33 goals conceded). Jordan Stewartarrived from England in midseason and played well enough during the Quakes’ revival that they traded the previous starter, Justin Morrow, to Toronto on Tuesday.
SA's Best Left Backs (1996-2013)
2013 Seth Sinovic
2012 Heath Pearce
2011 Todd Dunivant
2010 Jonathan Bornstein
2009 Jonathan Bornstein
2008 Gonzalo Segares
2007 Wade Barrett
2006 Jose Burciaga, Gonzalo Segares
2005 Wade Barrett, Gonzalo Segares
2004 Jose Burciaga
2003 Carlos Bocanegra
2002 Wade Barrett
2001 Diego Gutierrez
2000 Greg Vanney
1999 Jeff Agoos
1998 Jeff Agoos
1997 Jeff Agoos
1996 Steve Pittman
Note:In 2005 and 2006, left backs were ranked in 3-man and 4-man backlines.