By Ridge Mahoney
Many observers believe the two centerback slots to be interchangeable, and while it’s true that some players can toggle back and forth to good effect, most will tell you they’d rather stick to one slot and probably not play out on the corners.
Best of MLS 2013:
Right Backs: Sheanon Williams
Left Backs:Seth Sinovic
The top-ranked performers of the 2013 season, Jose Goncalves of New England at left centerback and Jamison Olave of New York at right centerback, are tigers in the middle and only strayed wide out of necessity. A few of their counterparts did quite a bit of moving around.
A.J. DeLaGarza, Shane O’Neill, Josh Williams and Hassoun Camara were among those players asked to play centrally as well as at outside back. The positional demands can be drastically different but for these versatile players, defending is defending, and the rest is just details. (Williams played the majority of his games at right back and was ranked in that category.)
Olave contributed an excellent first season in New York after being traded from Real Salt Lake and Goncalves stamped himself as a star in his debut MLS campaign.
A few prominent defenders didn’t play enough games to be ranked, including Whitecaps captain Jay DeMerit, San Jose defender Clarence Goodson and Galaxy rookie Kofi Opare. The rankings are based on performances in MLS competition.
SA's Top 10 MLS Left Centerbacks (2013)
1. (-) Jose Goncalves (New England Revolution)
2. (1) Matt Besler (Sporting KC)
3. (-) Pa Modou Kah (Portland Timbers)
4. (NR) Chris Schuler (Real Salt Lake)
5. (NR) Shane O’Neill(Colorado Rapids)
6. (NR) A.J. DeLaGarza (Los Angeles Galaxy)
7. (12) George John(FC Dallas)
8. (NR) Hassoun Camara (Montreal Impact)
9. (NR) Markus Holgersson (New York Red Bulls)
10. (3) Jeff Parke (Philadelphia Union)
Note: In parentheses 2012 ranking of all center backs.
NR=not ranked in 2012; -=not in MLS in 2012.
In his second season as Revs head coach, Jay Heaps set out to shore up the back line and the Portuguese-born Goncalves did just that. He played every minute and dominated many games by knifing into tackles, powering crosses out of danger, and chasing down through balls. The Revs set a team record with 14 shutouts and whether paired with Steven McCarthy or A.J. Soares, Goncalves came to play every day.
In his first year as a U.S. national team regular, Matt Besler missed about one-third of the MLS season because of national team duty and occasional bouts with fatigue. Yet he soldiered on right through to the final in which he led SKC with six clearances. Kah arrived as an emergency replacement for the injured Mikael Silvestre and stabilized a defensive core while paired with Andrew-Jean Baptiste or fellow Ghanaian Mamadou "Futty" Danso. Jason Kreis and his coaching staff gave Chris Schuler a lot of credit for tightening up the RSL back line upon his return from foot and ankle injuries, and he notched two playoff goals.
O’Neill, 20, signed as Homegrown Player in 2012 and stepped in so comfortably when Diego Calderon was injured that he kept his spot while occasionally playing right back. (He wants to return to his regular midfield role next season.) DeLaGarza also played out wide when not paired in the middle with former college teammate Omar Gonzalez; his pace and range are attributes wherever he plays.
Nobody can escape culpability for FCD’s plummet into the abyss, but George John plugged up his area reasonably well, improved his passing, scored two goals, and took only three cautions. In a bad season that’s not bad. Camara’s defending can be erratic but he filled in at right back and two of his three goals were absolute dazzlers. The oft-criticized Markus Holgersson upped his game alongside Olave to greatly upgrade a Red Bulls’ problem area. Philly native Jeff Parke banged bodies and barked orders in a Union back line that yearned for stability.
SA's Best Centerbacks (1996-2013)
2013 Jamison Olave (RCB), Jose Goncalves (LCB)
2012 Matt Besler
2011 Omar Gonzalez
2010 Jamison Olave
2009 Geoff Cameron
2008 Chad Marshall
2007 Eddie Robinson
2006 Jimmy Conrad, Michael Parkhurst
2005 Jimmy Conrad, Michael Parkhurst
2004 Robin Fraser
2003 Eddie Pope
2002 Alexi Lalas
2001 Jeff Agoos
2000 Peter Vermes
1999 Lubos Kubik
1998 Eddie Pope
1997 Eddie Pope
1996 Robin Fraser
Note:In 2005 and 2006, center backs were ranked in 3-man and 4-man backlines.