[MLS SPOTLIGHT]Saturday's Seattle-Columbus match will shine a spotlight on the new centerback pairings at both clubs. Chad Marshall's move from the Crew has helped stabilize the leaky Sounders' backline, while the new Michael Parkhurst-Giancarlo Gonzalez pairing has quickly emerged as one of the best in MLS, which has seen 13 of 19 teams bring in new starting center backs or shift players into the middle from other positions.
MLS:Week 4 Schedule
The play of Parkhurst and Marshall should come as no surprise as both are former MLS Defenders of the Year -- Parkhurst in 2007 and Marshall in 2008 and 2009 -- and Gonzalez is no stranger to American fans as he plays for Costa Rica's national team. Sounders coach Sigi Schmid went so far as to say that Marshall's quality was as good or better than the center backs being called into the national team.
Seattle's trade for Marshall, whom Schmid had when he was at the Crew, contributed to the reshaping of four MLS backlines in total as Columbus brought in Parkhurst and Gonzalez from Europe after Marshall's departure, Seattle dealt John Kennedy Hurtado and Patrick Iannito Chicago after picking up Marshall, and the Fire sent Austin Berry to Philadelphia after he became expendable following the acquisition of Hurtado and Ianni.
In the first three weeks of the MLS season, only eight of the 19 teams have managed to line up the same centerback pairing. And of those eight, only one team -- Toronto FC -- is using a duo -- Steven Caldwell and Doneil Henry -- that was regularly paired together in the middle last season. (Matteo Ferrari and Hassoun Camara started five games together last season for Montreal, though Camara usually started at right back.)
Injuries have already taken their toll. Norberto Paparatto was expected to solidify the Portland backline, but the Argentine missed the Timbers' 2-0 loss to Colorado with a groin injury. Indeed, neither Portland nor New York, the 2013 regular-season conference champions, have used the same centerback pairing in any of their three matches.
Aaron Maund replaced Chris Schuler (recovering from ankle surgery) in the Real Salt Lake backline for the first two games, but he's now out with a hamstring injury. Aaron Wheeler, a forward for most of his career, was slotted in at centerback by Union coach John Hackworth after Berry was sidelined with a hamstring injury. Eriq Zavaleta, a forward coming out of Indiana, was used at center back by Chivas USA after Bobby Burling was injured.
One centerback pairing is a reunion of sorts. Marvell Wynne and Drew Moor, who started at centerback on Colorado's 2010 MLS championship, are back together in the middle of the Rapids' backline. Last season, Oscar Pareja went with Wynne at right back and young Shane O'Neill in the middle. But a change of coaches has resulted in a switch as Pablo Mastroeni, who played on the MLS Cup 2010 team with Wynne and Moor, switched Wynne and O'Neill.
2014 Starting MLS Center Backs:
*Chicago: 3 John Kennedy Hurtado (Seattle), 3 Bakary Soumare.
Chivas USA:3 Carlos Bocanegra, 2 Bobby Burling/1 Eriq Zavaleta (on loan from Seattle).
*Colorado:2 Marvell Wynne (moved from right back), 2 Drew Moor.
*Columbus:2 Michael Parkhurst (Augsburg), 2 Giancarlo Gonzalez (Valerenga).
FC Dallas: 3 Matt Hedges, 1 Moises Hernandez (Municipal)/2 Stephen Keel.
*D.C. United:2 Bobby Boswell (Houston), 2 Jeff Parke (Philadelphia).
*Houston: 2 David Horst (Portland), 2 Jermaine Taylor.
LA Galaxy:2 Omar Gonzalez, 1 Leonardo/1 A.J. DeLaGarza.
*Montreal:2 Matteo Ferrari, 2 Hassoun Camara (moved from right back).
New England: 3 A.J. Soares, 2 Jose Goncalves/1 Andrew Farrell (moved from right back).
New York:2Jamison Olave, 2 Armando (Cordoba), 2 Ibrahim Sekagya.
Philadelphia:3 Amobi Okugo, 2 Austin Berry (Chicago)/1 Aaron Wheeler (moved from forward).
Portland: 2 Pa Modou Kah, 2 Futty Danso, 2 Norberto Paparatto (Tigre).
Real Salt Lake: 3 Nat Borchers, 2 Aaron Maund1 Chris Schuler.
San Jose:2 Victor Bernandez, 1 Clarence Goodson/1 Jason Hernandez.
*Seattle:3 Chad Marshall (Columbus), 3 Djimi Traore.
Sporting KC:3 Aurelien Collin, 2 Matt Besler/1 Ike Opara.
*Toronto FC:2 Steven Caldwell, 2 Doneil Henry.
Vancouver:3 Andy O'Brien, 2 Jay DeMerit/1 Johnny Leveron.
*Started same pairing each game.