Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Top 5 MLS Spines

Here's your first top 5 MLS spines of the year. As always, subject to change and the whims of injury.

#5 - Seattle (Keller, Hurtado, Ianni, Alonso, Friberg, Montero, Jaqua)

Sounders FC gets a real shot in the arm from Kasey Keller, Fredy Montero and Osvaldo Alonso here, all of whom are among the league's elite at their positions at their best - Alonso, especially. He consistently completes as many passes as any midfielder in the league and has been an unsung hero for a few years now. Erik Friberg has been a solid addition this year, though he's battled a injury recently and was pulled off for Servando Carrasco last weekend. Zakuani's injury on the wing forced Seattle into a more standard 4-4-2 instead of the 4-diamond-2, forcing a very solid vertebrae to undergo an identity change. Still one of the best around when healthy. A tough choice with some solid spines like DC United (sorry Dax), Columbus and Houston hanging out there.

#4 - Los Angeles Galaxy (Ricketts, Gonzalez, DeLaGarza, Juninho, Beckham, Angel/Barrett, Lopez)

The number one question I'm anticipating… "Wha, Galaxy only fourth?" Unless you hate LA, then it's, "Wha... Galaxy fourth?" Sure, LA is arguably the best in the league, but the wing play has been excellent under Donovan's direction, and until LA finds a consistent striker (yes, that means you JP Angel), I'm reticent to give their spine a top three nod. Yes, Beckham tends to drift wide, but he provides some excellent service from the middle as well. And a lot of LA's inclusion in this list is naturally predicated on Angel reverting back to the player he was in New York… no sure thing, I know. But I love Omar Gonzalez and Ricketts has shown plenty of flashes of immense talent.

#3 - Real Salt Lake (Rimando, Olave, Borchers, Beckerman, Warner, Alvarez, Saborio/Espindola)

As our first edition of 2011 is released, it marks unfortunate timing for our friends in Salt Lake. With Javier Morales, RSL might have a claim on No. 1 (though probably not). The fact that Morales' ankle was turned about 90 degrees sideways as recently as two weeks ago alters that gameplan a wee bit. The above lineup, with Saborio starting, was the one RSL trotted out against Houston last weekend in their first game without Morales. Still a stern spine? No question. But subbing out Javi for Collen Warner et al in the CAM role is a notable downgrade. The availability of Espindola is also a boost, especially since Saborio has been MIA since that woeful Champions League final performance.

#2 - FC Dallas (Hartman, John, Ihemelu, Hernandez, Jacobson, Chavez, Castillo)

MLSS.com handed Kevin Hartman, Fabian Castillo and George John passes into its starting XI of the week on Monday. Fair assessment for one of the hottest defenders around, an incendiary teenage heartthrob of a striker and arguably the league's best keeper. Like we've already seen with RSL, FCD would be in even better stead if its best player was still on the pitch, in this case the injured David Ferreira. But FCD's back is a rock, the midfield is anchored by captain Daniel Hernandez and Castillo is providing brief moments of utter brilliance up top, a little like this lovely piece of work two weeks ago.

I labored over which of the cracked spines (those being FCD and RSL) to put ahead of the other. Thought about maybe giving them a tie, but that's a lame copout, so FCD gets it by a hair until RSL proves it can play without Morales as FCD has without Ferreira.

#1 - New York (Coundoul, Marquez, Ream, Tainio, De Rosario, Henry, Rodgers/Agudelo)

There are so many variants on this formation, but in my eyes no MLS team can come close to this arrangement. Tainio is technically listed as a defender on the team's roster, but Red Bulls coach Hans Backe has recently used him as a holding midfielder behind De Rosario with success. Little needs to be said about the combination of Rafa Marquez and Tim Ream at the back that hasn't been staked down by their bouncer-like mentality. Henry of course needs no introduction, and Agudelo wears Superman underwear as far as U.S. supporters are concerned. Coundoul and Rodgers may be the weak(est) links, but Coundoul is rarely asked to do too much, and as for Rodgers... playing off Thierry Henry isn't likely to be the toughest assignment of his career.

- Will Parchman

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