By Ridge Mahoney
The expansion of international slots has encouraged teams to seek out foreign players to play in the back as well as in midfield and up front, but Americans continue to fill out the top tier.
On top in this year’s rankings is Sporting Kansas City fourth-year centerback Matt Besler, who was taken with the No. 8 overall pick in the 2009 SuperDraft and has been a starter just about since day one.
Any coach will tell you the centerback pairing is among a team’s most vital elements, and anchored by Besler and Aurelien Collin most of the time, SKC posted a league-best 27 goals allowed, six fewer than any other team, and 15 shutouts. When Collin was briefly replaced by Lawrence Olum late in the season, SKC and Besler stayed stingy.
In this ranking, Galaxy centerback Omar Gonzalez is downgraded for so few games played (14) during the regular season. The rankings are based on statistics, consistency of play, value for salary, contribution to team performance, and other factors.
SA's Top 15 MLS 2012 Centerbacks
1. Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City)
2. Victor Bernardez (San Jose)
3. Jeff Parke (Seattle)
4. Aurelien Collin (SKC)
5. Nat Borchers (Real Salt Lake)
6. Omar Gonzalez (Los Angeles)
7. Arne Freidrich (Chicago)
8. Bobby Boswell (Houston)
9. Jay DeMerit (Vancouver)
10. Austin Berry (Chicago)
11. Jhon Kennedy Hurtado (Seattle)
12. George John (FC Dallas)
13. Jamison Olave (Real Salt Lake)
14. Dejan Jakovic (D.C. United)
15. Carlos Valdes (Philadelphia)
Honduran international Victor Bernardez came back from a sprained MCL suffered in April to dominate games with his strength and power; he also scored two goals, with a superb volley and wicked free kick. Jeff Parke played the most minutes of any defender the Sounders finished with the second-fewest goals allowed (33). Collin contributed a strong season despite briefly losing his slot alongside Besler and fouling a lot (57). Nat Borchers needed time to return from offseason surgery yet started all 26 of his appearances and committed just 16 fouls.
Gonzalez returned in July from an ACL tear and accelerated the Galaxy’s revival from bad starter to champion finisher. Arne Freidrich’s poise and vision stabilized the Fire defense though he only played two-thirds of the games. Bobby Boswell picked up his game in the second half of the season as the Dynamo reached its second straight MLS Cup. A very good season for Jay DeMerit deteriorated somewhat in the final weeks. Austin Berry took Rookie of the Year honors via a string of tough yet heady displays.
Injuries and fitness issues limited Jhon Kennedy Hurtado to 22 games, most of which were solid if not excellent. George John was victimized more often than in past seasons yet FCD has retained him on a new contract. Jamison Olave’s inconsistent performances, more frequent than in the past, prompted RSL to trade him. Dejan Jakovic isn’t a very strong tackler yet dealt better this year with the rugged nature of MLS and is above-par on the ball. In a tumultuous Philly season Carlos Valdes took over as team captain and fought through burnout once called up by Colombia.