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MLS Positional Rankings: Olave excels in new surroundings
by Ridge Mahoney, December 20th, 2013 7:12PM

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TAGS:  mls, new york red bulls

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By Ridge Mahoney

MLS squads as a whole may be lacking in certain player types, but the right side of central defense is well-stocked.

Best of MLS 2013:
Goalkeepers: Donovan Ricketts
Right Backs: Sheanon Williams
Left Centerbacks: Jose Goncalves
Left Backs: Seth Sinovic

If there’s one constant to the most successful MLS teams of the past decade, it’s a dominant centerback. Men like Jamison Olave, Omar Gonzalez, Matt Besler, Aurelien Collin, Jhon Kennedy Hurtado and Nat Borchers are key components that separate hopeful contenders from serious title threats.

These are the 2013 rankings for centerbacks who usually play in the right-hand slot though most of them are equally capable on either side. Left centerbacks, such as Besler, were ranked separately.

SA's Top 10 MLS Right Centerbacks (2013)
1. (13) Jamison Olave (New York Red Bulls)
2. (6) Omar Gonzalez (LA Galaxy)
3. (4) Aurelien Collin (Sporting KC)
4. (5) Nat Borchers (Real Salt Lake)
5. (NR) Alessandro Nesta (Montreal Impact)
6. (2) Victor Bernardez (San Jose Earthquakes)
7. (11) Jhon Kennedy Hurtado (Seattle Sounders)
8. (8) Bobby Boswell (Houston Dynamo)
9. (NR) Chad Marshall (Columbus Crew)
10. (NR) Amobi Okugo (Philadelphia Union)
Note: In parentheses 2012 ranking of all center backs.
NR=not ranked in 2012; -=not in MLS in 2012.

Olave, formerly a defensive mainstay in the RSL back line, toughened up the Red Bulls as they captured their first Supporters’ Shield and shaved five goals off their goals-conceded total in 2012. His four goals featured two nifty finishes with his feet and he finished fourth in Defender of the Year voting. Unfortunately, his season ended with a red card issued for a late tackle on Omar Cummings in the playoffs.

A few shaky games while recovering from national-team burdens plagued Gonzalez, who otherwise sharpened his use of the ball and decisiveness in critical situations compared to previous years. Though he signed a lucrative new MLS contract in August, there will be bidders for his services next summer. Collin takes too many cautions (13) and commits too many careless fouls (54 total) but wins a lot of balls on the ground and in the air. He scored three goals in the regular season, three more in the playoffs (including one in the final), and drilled home the decisive penalty kick as SKC captured its second MLS Cup.

RSL handed Borchers a big task after it traded away three starters, including Olave, following the 2012 season. Borchers took on more leadership and held down the fort as a new fleet of players carried the team’s colors. Injuries and age eventually caught up with the 37-year-old Alessandro Nesta, who announced his retirement after the Impact dropped from first place and barely made the playoffs. When on his game, an uncanny sense of positioning and mastery of the ball provided glimpses of how the world’s elite play centerback.

Victor Bernardez, an unstoppable force on his best days, rebounded after a rocky start to the season to drive the Quakes’ resurgence. Hurtado’s man-marking prowess continued but he often committed fouls (28) trying to cover up mistakes. Bobby Boswell contributed another solid season for another Dynamo run to the playoffs and should be a key component in the rebuild of D.C. United, which claimed him in the Re-Entry Draft.

Marshall, the MLS Defender of the Year in 2008, showed more of that form than in past seasons as he re-established his game following post-concussion issues. The four games he missed were due to a strained hamstring and at 29, should have a few good years left for his new team in Seattle. In a perfect world, Amobi Okugo would be a defensive mid, yet he’s composed and strong and dependable in the back, and absolutely vital to the Union’s future

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.


1 comment
  1. John Burns
    commented on: December 21, 2013 at 3:49 p.m.
    I am curious if the Jorge Bernardez mentioned in this article is related to Victor Bernardez, the dude who actually plays right center back for the Quakes. Anybody ever edit this stuff before sending it out for public consumption?


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