MLS Positional Rankings (Left Backs/Wingbacks): Morrow's work in dominant Toronto FC season rates top billing

The versatility shown by Justin Morrow, one of two outside backs to leave San Jose and wind up in Toronto, is just one example of why MLS teams are more willing to use different alignments in the back.

The left back in a standard four-man backline could be shuttled forward, a la Morrow, to play the wingback role in a five-man midfield. (Morrow's former San Jose teammate, Steven Beitashour, did the same on the right side.)

The Red Bulls deployed Kemar Lawrence as a left-sided defender in its 3-3-3-1 formation as well as occasionally using him further upfield. Some teams go with three centerbacks as their trio, other teams would rather use a faster, more mobile player for at least one of the outside slots.

Yet with most teams relying on four-man back lines the majority of the time, a dependable left back is essential. Since just about every team in MLS has a good right-sided attacker, the left back/wingback and the players around him must be solid defensively.

This is one of several positions most teams are reluctant to spend significant money to fill, and TFC got great value for the $210,000 in base salary it paid Morrow in 2017.

Several left backs earned more and didn't even make the cut for our rankings. The rankings are based on production and performance in 2017 regular-season and playoff games. Players appearing in fewer than one-half of their team’s games are not ranked.

SA Top 10: Left Backs/Wingbacks
1.
Justin Morrow (Toronto FC)
2. Joevin Jones (Seattle)
3. Greg Garza (Atlanta United)
4. Ashley Cole (LA Galaxy)
5. Kemar Lawrence (NY Red Bulls)
6. Ben Sweat (New York City FC)
7. Brandon Vincent (Chicago)
8. Fabinho (Philadelphia)
9. Vytas (Portland)
10. Kelyn Rowe (New England)

On the same night Toronto FC became the first Canadian team to win the Supporters’ Shield, Justin Morrow notched just the second hat trick by a defender in league history. TFC played most of the season in a 3-5-2 formation with Morrow at left wingback, but regardless of how it lined up, he racked up eight goals, averaged 2.3 tackles per game and completed 82.4 percent of his passes for one of the most dominant team displays in league history.

Joevin Jones also toggled between slots on the left flank and played more left mid once the Sounders had signed Nouhou Tolo. His offensive stats – 11 assists, 85.5 percent passes completed, 1.2 key passes per game – outshone his defensive numbers, and his move to Darmstadt of the German second division deprives the Western Conference of one its most exciting players.

Not as pacey as Jones but also adept at bending balls behind the opposing back line, Greg Garza did the business at both ends of the field. He scored twice, logged five assists and connected on 81.5 percent of his passes while also posting solid numbers in tackles (1.7) and interceptions (1.8) per game.

In several games, Ashley Cole certainly showed his age (35), yet his experience and class also stood out on a very dysfunctional Galaxy. Cole completed 85.3 percent of his passes and in his 29 games provided 20 key passes, only two of which earned him assists.

As one of the most physical outside backs in the league, Kemar Lawrence recorded five assists along with strong defensive numbers of 2.3 tackles, 2.3 interceptions, and 3.4 clearances per game. His passing percentage (71.6) needs improvement.

Signed in February after a preseason trial, Ben Sweat parlayed two seasons of NASL experience with Tampa Bay into 30 MLS appearances (including playoffs) and logged six assists as well as an 80.4 percent pass-completion rate.

In his second pro season, Brandon Vincent held down a job on a very good team to pick up five assists and keep himself in the U.S. national team mix. Fabinho averaged 2.8 tackles and 2.0 interceptions per game and the Union has signed him to a new contract. Vytas chipped in five assists for the Timbers while completing 80.3 percent of his passes.

An attacker by trade, Kelyn Rowe played about one-third of his games at left back as an emergency replacement, yet contributed three of his six assists from that position and overall averaged a very solid 2.7 tackles per game.      
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