The top thee center backs in Major League Soccer are fairly predictable and fairly interchangeable in terms of Nos. 1, 2 or 3.
After that? It’s a lot tougher to cobble together a real ordering, with about 10-15 above-average MLS center backs who could probably fill any of the next seven spots on our Top Ten.
And what to do about tandems that work in perfect balance, forming a central duo that’s more than sum of its skillful parts? Chicago is the perfect example, with veteran Arne Friedrich supplying the veteran know-how while MLS 2012 Rookie of the Year Austin Berry holds the role of talented understudy.
Disclaimers aside, here’s how we see Major League Soccer’s Top 10 in center backs:
1. San Jose’s Victor Bernardez (pictured)
2. LA Galaxy’s Omar Gonzalez >
At 24 years old, the two-time MLS Cup winner is about to launch his fifth professional season. As he is now (apparently) the first choice U.S. center back, Gonzalez’s stock remains on the rise. He still has room to grow – and think about that for a second.
3. Sporting Kansas City’s Matt Besler >
Not blessed with Gonzalez’s size, the SKC man does it with expert positioning and outstanding technique, with just the right amount of applied tenacity. Like Gonzalez, he impressed U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann in the extended January national team camp.
4. New York Red Bulls’ Jamison Olave >
Staying healthy is the trick for Olave, who had five outstanding seasons at Real Salt Lake. With speed that belies his big frame, the Colombian defender cleaned up more messes than a lot of people might realize in his days at Rio Tinto.
5. Vancouver Whitecaps’ Jay DeMerit
6. FC Dallas’ George John
7. Sporting Kansas City’s Aurelien Collin
8. Colorado Rapids’ Jeff Parke >
In Seattle, Parke had the league’s best midfield protector in Osvaldo Alonso. No reason to think he can’t do the job in Philadelphia, but that seems worthy of pointing out, at least. Parke is certainly thrilled to be in Philly, near where he grew up.
9. Chicago Fire’s Arne Freidrich
10. New York Red Bulls’ Heath Pearce >
He’s a difficult one to slot, because he would probably be one of the league’s top left backs … except that Red Bulls manager Mike Petke is loaded at the spot and probably needs Pearce to play centrally.