There was a time when Major League Soccer fullback play meant there was very little distinction between the league’s best right backs. Whether that was down to talent, tactics, talent acquisition, or the lingering biases from the broader soccer culture, you used to be able to throw the names of MLS’s best backs into a hat and pull an almost indistinguishable, defensively accountable, decent crossing dude out of the lot.
It’s wasn’t that the players weren’t good. It’s that a league with a salary cap that provided limited financial resources forced choices. And those choices highlighted how that position was perceived within the North American game.
Now things are changing. The salary cap’s going up. More athletic players are being groomed into the position. The tactics are changing.
Major League Soccer’s wide defenders are slowly starting to reflect the attacking quality that has defined fullback play across the globe. It’s part of a product that continues to improve.
As with the goalkeepers, there was a wildcard or two which forced us to demur. It’s possible Portland’s Ryan Miller plays his way onto this list in a couple of months, and we’ll have to wait and see how the playing time in New York shakes out.
Until then, here’s how we see Major League Soccer’s Top 10 Right Backs:
1. Vancouver’s Lee Young-Pyo (pictured) >
One year in the league, and the South Korean is a clear number one. It’s no surprise. The South Korean came to BC Place with 127 international notches on his belt. Set to turn 36 in April, we’re yet to see evidence of him slowing down.
2. Real Salt Lake’s Tony Beltran
3. San Jose Earthquakes’ Steven Beitashour >
A strong 2012 vaulted the aspiring U.S. international to this position, but recovering from a sports hernia injury he played through at the end of last season, the 26-year-old may be hard pressed to duplicate 2012’s form. It’s likely to be a small road bump in a promising career.
4. Sporting Kansas City’s Chance Myers
5. LA Galaxy’s Sean Franklin >
There was a time when Franklin would have been at the top of this list, a status that won him a national team look under the previous administration. Last year, his defending was more problematic than in previous seasons (as Steve Zakuani showed in the playoffs), but if he can return to his former, slightly more stalwart self, the two-time MLS Cup winner could be the second best right back in the league.
6. FC Dallas’ Zach Loyd
7. Philadelphia’s Sheanon Williams >
8. New England Revolution’s Kevin Alston >
This is where the list gets cloudy. Williams, however, has been one of the few reliable parts of a Union team that’s been down-up-down in its first three years. Alston, a former All-Star, still has all the skills, but like much of what we’ve seen from New England, things could be better.
9. Toronto FC’s Richard Eckersley >
10. Seattle Sounders’ Adam Johansson >
Take your pick between Eckersley and Johansson, and your pick will likely reflect your preferences in fullbacks. Eckersley’s reliable at the back and tries to get forward. Johnsson can provide plus play in attack while trying to hold up his end of the bargain in defense.