Major League Soccer positional Top Tens: CENTER BACKS

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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.

(MORE: entire roster of ProSoccerTalk’s Major League Soccer previews and predictions)

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.

Inter Milan back in the Champions League after late heroics (video)

Giuseppe Lami/ANSA via AP
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It’s been more than a half-decade since Inter Milan qualified for the UEFA Champions League, an infamous run that ended on Sunday.

Inter scored twice in the final 13 minutes to beat fifth-place Lazio and advance into the Top Four via head-to-head record.

[ MORE: Man Utd youngster gets USMNT call-up ]

Lazio held 1-0 and 2-1 leads, but could not get the job done at home, collecting red cards in the 79th minute and stoppage time.

Uruguayan midfielder Matias Vecino scored his third goal of the season, redirecting a corner kick home in the 81st minute, as Inter clinched fourth place in Serie A.

Matic: Man Utd needs more experience in its squad

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Nemanja Matic would like to see a bit more veteran bravery in his Manchester United side.

The title-winning 29-year-old midfielder finished second in the Premier League this season, his first with the Red Devils after a strong run with Chelsea.

[ MORE: Man Utd youngster gets USMNT call-up ]

The Blues beat United in Saturday’s FA Cup Final, and Matic says the answer to winning hardware isn’t in talent as much as it is wisdom.

From the BBC:

“The only team who is better than us this year is Man City,” said Matic. “Obviously, they play amazing football. But we are second and we are in the Champions League next year, which is the most important thing. I think we need some players with some experience to bring some more qualities to our team.”

United loses one veteran cog in Michael Carrick, and both Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Wayne Rooney have skipped town in the last year.

Who could fit the bill in terms of old hats in current United positions of weakness? Well, a full offseason for Alexis Sanchez will help, and perhaps the rumors of Toby Alderweireld make the most sense of any we’ve seen in recent weeks.

MLS Things: Shuttleworth, Quintero somehow get Loons a point vs. SKC

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Entering the day, no one was arguing that hosts Minnesota United were a better side than Sporting KC.

The Loons were 11 points and 19 goals worth of differential behind Western Conference-leading KC.

[ MORE: Other MLS Things — The Archive ]

They still are, despite a 1-1 Sunday match which carried a fitting disparity on the pitch but nothing to separate the two on the scoreboard.

Khiry gets his just desserts

Oregon State product Khiry Shelton has been wonderful for Sporting KC this season, but the striker just hasn’t found the back of the goal.

That finally changed Sunday, when his downbound header got the better of Bobby Shuttleworth — more on him later — and allowed him a richly-deserved first SKC goal which could well break down the dam.

The eighth minute saw Shelton score his goal on one of just six Loons shot attempts.

Shuttleworth back in business

It’s not always sexy to go to the veteran backstop, but it looks like Adrian Heath should’ve called Bobby Shuttleworth’s name a long time ago.

Entering the day, Shuttleworth had the second-best WhoScored.com rating of any goalkeeper to appear in more than five matches (Evan Bush).

While certainly part of that has to do with the defensive actions foisted upon him, Shuttleworth was the main reason SKC’s 24-6 advantage in attempts failed to turn into anything other than a point.

Darwin

Darwin Quintero has had more good matches than bad ones since joining the Loons, and added his third goal in seven matches with this rebound finish on Sunday.

Quintero had two goals and four assists in 17 Liga MX matches, but has been perfectly revitalized by the Minnesota air.

VIDEO: Coutinho scores brilliant curler; Iniesta walks off

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It’s often funny to read the A. in front of Andres Iniesta’s surname on his match jersey, as if there’s any other.

On Sunday, the 34-year-old midfielder walked off the field for the last time (video at bottom) as a Barcelona player, handing the captain’s arm band to Lionel Messi and beginning a new era for both the club and player.

[ MORE: Bayern salutes Heynckes (again) ]

Barcelona beat Real Sociedad 1-0 on Sunday in the final La Liga match of the season.

While the match will be remembered as Iniesta’s last with Blaugranas, Philippe Coutinho gave a glimpse of the future with his eighth goal of the season and sixth in his last five games.

Barca finishes a 1-loss season with 99 goals and a 14-point lead over La Liga runners-up Atletico Madrid.