By Ridge Mahoney
The increased intensity of the typical MLS match is partially a result of more athletic players imbued with some skill occupying the outside back slots.
Since nearly 90 percent of the population is naturally right-footed, teams should have plenty of options to play this position. Yet the demands are considerable. Whether isolated one-v-one or tasked with closing down a pass or dribbler surging through the channel, right backs have to be fast as well as strong to handle the defensive duties. The league gets faster every year and right backs face speed duels in every game.
Most teams also expect some attacking impetus from this side of the back line, which entails crossing under pressure along with combination play. Teams attacking packed defenses greatly value a right back who can serve a high ball or slip a through ball into the channel.
The positional rankings are based solely on league and playoff matches in 2013.
SA's Top 10 MLS Right Backs (2013)
1. (8) Sheanon Williams(Philadelphia Union)
2. (6) Chance Myers (Sporting KC)
3. (-) Andrew Farrell(New England Revolution)
4. (-) DeAndre Yedlin (Seattle Sounders)
5. (3) Tony Beltran (Real Salt Lake)
6. (2) Steven Beitashour (San Jose Earthquakes)
7. (NR) Josh Williams (Columbus Crew)
8. (NR) Kofi Sarkodie(Houston Dynamo
9. (7) Young-Pyo Lee(Vancouver Whitecaps)
10. (1) Sean Franklin(Los Angeles Galaxy)
Note: In parentheses 2012 ranking at position.
NR=not ranked in 2012; -=not in MLS in 2012.
Sheanon Williams fought off a challenge from Raymond Gaddis to lock down this position for the Union and also filled in at centerback well enough to shut down Montreal. He tied the league record for assists by a defender (8), features one of the league’s strongest throw-ins, and though he committed a lot of fouls (42) and took six cautions as well as a red card, at age 23 is growing into a very good player.
So much attention is focused on SKC’s attackers and centerbacks other players can get lost in the shuffle, yet opposing teams know they must counter Chance Myers’ forays forward and accurate entry passes. He’s fast enough to track most wingers and a reliable tackler. Andrew Farrellis one of the league’s bright lights; a centerback at Louisville, as a rookie he moved outside at the behest of Revs head coach (and former right back)Jay Heaps to excellent effect. DeAndre Yedlin’s pace and slashing runs earn deserved plaudits. His closing speed is remarkable but his suspect positioning and erratic timing leave too much room to make up in critical situations.
Tony Beltran is reliable defensively and good enough on the ball to fit RSL’s possession mantra. Steven Beitashour, who is battling for an Iranian World Cup spot, struggled through some rough periods, as did most of the Quakes. He's likely headed to Europe. Josh Williams played eight games at centerback as well as 19 at right back and while better suited to the middle, didn’t get enough credit for shoring up the Crew’s back line.
Kofi Sarkodieimproved significantly in 2013 and contributed four assists in his first full season as a starter (33 games). He should move up the ladder quickly with experience. Young-Pyo Lee wasn’t as consistent as he was in 2012 but his retirement leaves incoming head coach Carl Robinson with another hole to fill. Sean Franklin played some midfield during an up-and-down season that prompted the Galaxy to decline his option; D.C. United claimed him in the Re-Entry Draft.
SA's Best Right Backs (1996-2013)
2013 Sheanon Williams
2012 Sean Franklin
2011 Zach Loyd
2010 Sean Franklin
2009 Brian Namoff
2008 Frankie Hejduk
2007 Brian Namoff
2006 Chris Albright, Brian Namoff
2005 Chris Albright, Jay Heaps
2004 Chris Albright
2003 Danny Califf
2002 Chris Albright
2001 Ezra Hendrickson
2000 Mike Petke
1999 Ezra Hendrickson
1998 Mike Burns
1997 David Vaudreuil
1996 Mark Semioli
Note:In 2005 and 2006, right backs were ranked in 3-man and 4-man backlines.