By Ridge Mahoney
Since it joined MLS in 2009, the Seattle midfield has been anchored by a Cuban defector who is one of the league's savviest players and toughest tacklers: Osvaldo Alonso.
Two of the mainstays at holding midfielder are again at the top of the 2012 list, but longtime veteran Shalrie Joseph, traded during the season from New England to Chivas USA, wasn’t able to crack the top 10 this year.
A holding mid may be primarily defensive, but this position has evolved in MLS to the point that some very good passers fill the job. Either as outlet options or through winning the ball themselves, what they do with the ball is just as important as how often they collect it. Screening the back line and pouncing on loose balls are critical elements of team defensive play, and these guys do that grunt work, too.
TOP HOLDING MIDFIELDERS (SA 2012 RANKINGS)
1. Osvaldo Alonso (Seattle)
2. Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake)
3. Sam Cronin (San Jose)
4. Adam Moffat (Houston)
5. Logan Pause (Chicago)
6. Perry Kitchen (D.C. United)
7. Marcelo Sarvas (Los Angeles)
8. Jeff Larentowicz (Colorado)
9. Brian Carroll (Philadelphia)
10. Terry Dunfield (Vancouver)
Alonso isn’t quite as hot-tempered as he used to be, though his season ended with a red card handed out in the final seconds of Seattle’s last playoff game. He’s also cut down on his giveaways, which combined with his sharp tackling and intelligent use to the ball moves him to the top of the class.
Beckerman’s production (4 goals, 4 assists) was impressive but his foul count (57) was rather high and he was twice sent off. Cronin contributed six assists and played very steadily as the Quakes captured the Supporters’ Shield. Moffat, a midseason addition last year, again played a key role as Houston rolled to a second straight MLS Cup appearance. Pause knitted together a Fire team that underwent midseason changes and faltered late.
Kitchen, in his second season, took on a lot of responsibility for United and grew into one of its more reliable players. Sarvas struggled through some inconsistent stretches to play well for L.A. down the stretch. Deprived of regular partner Pablo Mastroeni (concussion), Larentowicz soldiered through a very tough season for the Rapids. Carroll has slipped a bit from his days in D.C. and Columbus yet still brings spirit and experience to a Union team in transition. Dunfield played a few different positions as the Whitecaps sorted out a difficult period at the end of the season.