By Ridge Mahoney
Some fans and journalists, and a few coaches as well, lament the outside back who won’t or can’t get forward. Everybody else moans about those who can’t defend.
The outside back must be tough enough in the air to win balls lifted into his area, yet quick enough to mark the speedy flank players most teams deploy, and strong enough to win tackles. Those who can also contribute offensively by getting down the wing to center square balls or loft crosses add a valuable dimension, and teams such as San Jose, Sporting Kansas City and D.C. United fortunate enough to have such players spend a lot of time in training getting them into good spots.
San Jose, for example, will occasionally slide right back Steve Beitashour into the channel and send a teammate looping around him, rather than use the more traditional overlapping run. A few outside backs also take corner kicks and free kicks from certain areas of the field to complement the set-play possibilities, and they served enough good balls to rank among the team leaders in assists.
These rankings reflect only a player’s performance during the 2012 MLS season and are based on statistics and consistency as well as other factors, such as value for money. Not many outside backs command the big salaries, yet several provide some of the best bang for buck in MLS.
SA's Top 10 Right Backs
1. Sean Franklin (Los Angeles)
2. Steve Beitashour (San Jose)
3. Tony Beltran (Real Salt Lake)
4. Andy Najar (D.C. United)
5. Jalil Anibaba (Chicago)
6. Chance Myers (Sporting KC)
7. Lee Young-Pyo (Vancouver)
8. Sheanon Williams (Philadelphia)
9. Zach Loyd (FC Dallas)
10. Kosuke Kimura (Portland)
Sean Franklin still relies a lot on his speed and struggled along with his teammates during the first half of the season. Since August, however, he’s been Shutdown Corner on the right side. He played every game, started all but one and picked up five assists while only being cautioned twice. One of those assists was a classic midfield delivery that Edson Buddle nailed into the net during a 2-2 tie with the Quakes.
Beitashour is a rugged tackler with a great cross and good pace; with a little more seasoning he’ll be a regular All-Star. Tony Beltran is a bit pricey for a domestic right back at $125,000 yet fits RSL’s formation and possession style snugly.
Andy Najar brings guile and skill to the corner while learning the defensive demands of this position. Chance Myers quietly toils for SKC and is better on the ball than most right backs, as his seven assists attests.
Lee Young-Pyo displayed the same blazing speed and relentless energy he marshaled so well for South Korea but got a bit worn out down the stretch. Second-year pro Jalil Anibaba improved from his rookie year though he must be tougher one-v-one.
Sheanon Williams played three or four positions for Philly in midfield along with the back line. Zach Loyd slipped a bit from the performances that had edged him into the national-team pool. Kosuke Kimura was among those players jettisoned by head coach Oscar Pareja during the Rapids makeover and found the going tough in Portland, which has just traded him to Siberia, a.k.a. the Red Bulls.