MLS Positional Rankings (Right Backs/Wingbacks): Zusi holds firm against younger foes

A few more MLS teams than in past seasons are deviating from the standard four-man back line, yet for the most part the right back is same as he ever was.

The big money spent by many teams on TAM attackers, however, has made life tougher for the wide defenders. To get more of them on the field, head coaches are deploying different versions of left-sided players to run at the right side of the defense with overlaps, angled runs and combination sequences.

The right back is also expected to get into the attack when possible, and passing percentage and crossing accuracy are among the most valued metrics for players in this position. A player who can defend the back post when crosses come over from the opposite flank are highly praised by their centerbacks and goalkeepers.

Rankings are based on performance and production during league and playoff games in 2017.
 
SA Top 10: Right Backs/Wingbacks
1. Graham Zusi (Sporting KC)
2. Matt Polster (Chicago)
3. Kelvin Leerdam (Seattle)
4. Harrison Afful (Columbus)
5. Jerome Thiesson (Minn. United)
6. Tony Beltran (Real Salt Lake)
7. Steven Beitashour (Toronto FC)
8. Scott Sutter (Orlando City)
9. Alvas Powell (Portland)
10. Nick Lima (San Jose)
 
It was an up-and-down season for SKC and Graham Zusi, yet he’s a reliable right back who can pass with the best of them (86.1 percent completed passes), bag the occasional assist (6), and deliver 1.8 tackles and 1.4 interceptions per game. And at 31, he's among the league leaders in key passes (2.5) and crosses (1.8) per game.

The Fire moved Matt Polster to right back with Dax McCarty holding down the midfield, and the former NSCAA First Team All-American adapted well enough to log five assists and complete 84.8 percent of his passes. With a little more work in the position he should better his defensive averages of tackles (1.3) and interceptions (1.4) per game.

A half-season (20 games) was more than enough to showcase the abilities of Kelvin Leerdam, who stepped right into the Sounders’ starting lineup to post averages of 2.0 tackles, 1.8 interceptions, and 2.1 clearances per game. At 23, he could be a flank fixture for quite a while.

Crew SC’s bounce-back season relied heavily on performances like that of Harrison Afful, who battled through some rough moments to solidify the right corner. He averaged two interceptions per game but in the attack, his speed didn’t produce much: just one goal and one assist.

The Loons’ defense was lamentable -- 70 goals conceded -- but Jerome Thiesson gallantly recorded 3.6 clearances and 2.6 tackles per game along with two goals and three assists. RSL needed time to figure things out after Mike Petke replaced head coach Jeff Cassar, and veteran Tony Beltran won back his job by averaging 2.5 tackles and 2.3 clearances per game. A great season for TFC didn’t translate to that of Steven Beitashour, who was good but not exceptional while registering four assists and completing 81.6 percent of his passes.

Scott Sutter missed only two games, registered four assists, and ranked among the league leaders with 3.6 clearances per game. His per-game mark of 2.5 tackles was also very solid. The passing of Alvas Powell was a bit erratic (74.7 percent) but he tormented defenses with his speed and held up defensively with 2.2 tackles, 1.6 clearances, and 2.4 clearances per game.

Rookie Nick Lima played a few different positions as the Quakes played three-man and four-man alignments, and he also lost games due to injury. Still, he scored twice and put up good numbers defensively (2.0 tackles, 2.0 interceptions, and 3.2 clearances per game).
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