By Ridge Mahoney
The classification of midfielders into separate categories for those who are primarily defensive and those imbued with two-way skill sets always involves interpretation.
Some teams play with two-way mids who share the defensive and offensive loads. None are truly holding midfielders nor out-and-out attackers. As a season unfolds and personnel, tactics, formations and situations change, players can be shuffled between roles and/or perhaps be deployed out wide.
Best of MLS 2013:
Right Backs: Sheanon Williams
Right Centerbacks:Jamison Olave
Left Centerbacks:Jose Goncalves
Left Backs:Seth Sinovic
One facet of the league’s maturation is there are fewer pure destroyers who can win the ball and break up plays but do little else. Nobody plays the role of contención (containment) better than Seattle’s Osvaldo Alonso, yet he also ranked highest in passing percentage this past season. Kyle Beckerman, Dax McCarty and Marcelo Sarvas did their defensive jobs well and also put up decent offensive numbers.
(Though he didn’t make the top 10, Crew Homegrown product Wil Trapp, 20, started 16 MLS games primarily as a holding mid and in his other job won U.S. Soccer’s Young Male Athlete of the Year award.)
The positional rankings are based solely on performances in MLS competition in 2013. Other midfield classifications will be ranked separately.
SA's Top 10 MLS Holding Midfielders (2013)
1. (2) Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake)
2. (1) Osvaldo Alonso(Seattle Sounders)
3. (2*) Dax McCarty (New York Red Bulls)
4. (-) Scott Caldwell (New England Revolution)
5. (7) Marcelo Sarvas (Los Angeles Galaxy)
6. (5*) Patrice Bernier (Montreal Impact)
7. (8) Jeff Larentowicz (Chicago Fire)
8. (NR) Oriol Rosell(Sporting Kansas City)
9. (9) Brian Carroll(Philadelphia Union)
10. (NR) Diego Chara(Portland Timbers)
Note: In parentheses 2012 ranking of all holding midfielders.
NR=not ranked in 2012; -=not in MLS in 2012; *=ranked at central midfielder.
The Beckerman-Alonso debate rages on. There isn’t much to separate them in terms of range, toughness, savvy and experience, but Beckerman’s stints with the national team have unquestionably sharpened his positioning and anticipation. He’s less frantic, more poised and has some offensive chops as shown by four goals and six assists. The disparity in fouls is glaring; Beckerman committed less than one-half as many as Alonso (26-54).
All that said, Alonso is a class above everyone else, though his high foul count and two red cards tainted his 2013 performance somewhat. Teams hate to play against him and would love to have him. The Sounders smartly rewarded his outstanding years of toil by upgrading him to Designated Player status.
McCarty once again found a spot in a yet-again revamped Red Bulls lineup. He’s quick enough over short distances to nick interceptions and burst into space to play an entry pass; four goals and four assists aren’t a bad return. Rookie Scott Caldwell rather quietly and competently anchored a midfield that tended to free-wheel forward, and the Revs’ improved defensive record (38 goals scored, tied for third-best) owes much to him minding the store. Sarvas sometimes drifted out wide and dominated midfield in many games while notching four goals and six assists. But he also racked up a league-high 80 fouls. Ouch.
Patrice Berniernotched eight assists and converted four penalty kicks while starting 28 of 31 games at age 33. Jeff Larentowicz, a.k.a. Mr. Reliable, missed only two games and both of his goals were game-winners. Oriol Rosell’s good displays anchored the league champions, but he committed 66 fouls and looked a lot more secure with Paulo Nagamuraas a regular partner.
Union fans love to rip Brian Carroll for his meager offense (two goals, one assist) but he’s capable of holding the center secure and still durable: at 32 he missed only one game. Diego Chara is the ideal workhorse – energetic, skillful -- for the aggressive Timbers' system. Though pacy and tough, he tends to overrun situations, as evidenced by his 74 fouls, third-highest in MLS.
SA's Best Holding Midfielders (1996-2013)
2012 Osvaldo Alonso
2011 Kyle Beckerman
2010 Jeff Larentowicz
2009 Ricardo Alonso
2008 Brian Carroll
2007 Jesse Marsch
2006 Shalrie Joseph
2005 Ricardo Clark
2000 Matt McKeon
1999 Chris Armas
1998 Chris Armas
1997 Richie Williams
1996 Leonel Alvarez