Ranking Each MLS Team on Their Defensive Strength
One week ago, we took a look at the best teams in Major League Soccer based on their offensive abilities.
Now that the attacks from each of the 19 clubs have been handed the spotlight, it is time to do the same with the defensive unit from each team.
Continue reading for a ranking of the best and worst teams in MLS, based on their defensive prowess.
19. Philadelphia Union
Philadelphia's starting back four this season includes a converted forward, a central midfielder doing his best to keep things together and a pair of full-backs that are constant targets of criticism.
If that doesn't sound like the worst defensive unit in the league, I don't know what does.
Even the replacements in the starting 11 have had bad games, most notably Austin Berry against Real Salt Lake on April 12.
Besides Amobi Okugo, who has impressed a bit since moving back from midfield last season, no player in this defensive setup is worthy of consistent praise.
18. Chivas USA
The defense that Chivas USA has on the pitch on a weekly basis does not have the quality that the team's attack has.
On countless occasions in 2013, goalkeeper Dan Kennedy was left out to dry by an unreliable back four.
The same characteristics have shown a bit in 2014, and the Goats have let in 14 goals in eight matches because of that.
Without the veteran leadership of Carlos Bocanegra at center-back, Chivas USA could have had an even worse start to the 2014 campaign.
17. Montreal Impact
Montreal has also conceded a league-high 14 goals to begin the 2014 season, but there have been some signs of progress for the Impact.
Center-back Karl Ouimette is improving by the game, and Hassoun Camara's switch to right-back against Philadelphia helped bring some stability to the back four.
However, the Montreal defensive unit is susceptible to bookings, a statement that can be backed up by the 11 yellow cards earned by the team's defenders in eight games.
16. Portland Timbers
Let's be honest here: there's a reason why Portland currently sits in last place in the Western Conference and has failed to win a single game this season.
That reason is the poor defense that the Timbers trot out to the pitch on a weekly basis.
The center-back duo of Futty Danso and Pa Modou Kah have been far from spectacular for Caleb Porter's side, which is something that many fans did not expect.
Kah has been the biggest liability at the back, as he has let plenty of opposing forwards cruise past him in open space to score.
15. San Jose Earthquakes
The departures of Justin Morrow and Steven Beitashour during the offseason hurt the San Jose defense more than anyone could have imagined.
With Victor Bernardez being the only steady hand in the back four, the Earthquakes have struggled to gain a foothold in the Western Conference standings.
The Earthquakes must be given a bit of leeway when it comes to their 2014 performance, because they haven't had many games together as a unit.
Since the side is still a work in progress, and Bernardez and Clarence Goodson have formed a decent center-back pairing, San Jose does get some love on this list compared to the four teams below it.
14. Chicago Fire
The four players that Chicago sends out to the pitch on defense aren't terrible, but none of them are superstars.
Led by center-backs Bakary Soumare and Jhon Kennedy Hurtado, the Fire have only let in one more goal (11) than they have scored (10).
Despite their average goal differential, Chicago is one of two teams left in the league that remain winless.
The team's record is a bit deceiving, since they have six draws in seven matches, which means the players in front of keeper Sean Johnson are doing a few things right.
13. Toronto FC
Toronto FC's defensive identity is still an unknown thanks to a plethora of injuries that have ravaged the team to begin the season.
With players like Doneil Henry and Steven Caldwell out for a few games, fans got a chance to see the Reds' reserves, who weren't that bad when called upon.
Having depth never hurts a club, but no one knows just how good or bad this back four is because there hasn't been a consistent lineup for Ryan Nelsen to put out on the pitch.
Luckily for Toronto, Michael Bradley sits in front of the back four in the defensive midfield, which is something every team in the league would love to have.
12. FC Dallas
If only the FC Dallas defense was as good as its offense.
Despite sitting in second place in the West, FC Dallas has a back four that is average at best, but doesn't get the criticism it deserves because of the flashy offensive play in front of them.
Matt Hedges and Kellyn Acosta are two very promising players, but each player has experienced some growing pains in 2014.
Jair Benitez and Stephen Keel are supposed to be the two calming forces alongside the young duo, but neither player has stood out a ton under manager Oscar Pareja this season.
Just like Toronto, FC Dallas is lucky to have a strong defensive midfield presence, Michel, to take the pressure off a bit in times of need, but his impressive play hasn't stopped his teammates from making mistakes behind him.
11. Vancouver Whitecaps
The Vancouver back four is one that just goes about its business and doesn't receive much criticism or praise.
The Whitecaps have an experienced group at the back that will commit few silly mistakes, but they will still concede a decent amount of goals.
The one thing going for the side is that they have consistency at the back, as Jay DeMerit, Andy O'Brien, Jordan Harvey and Steven Beitashour have played in a combined 30 games in 2014.
10. Colorado Rapids
Potential is a word that is often associated with the players that line up on defense for Colorado.
Just like every other position on the pitch, the Rapids are letting their young players gain match experience week after week, with Shane O'Neill and Chris Klute being the two of the biggest beneficiaries of that policy.
Colorado has also been smart by employing veteran Drew Moor at center-back to guide the young back four through some tough times.
Those tough times have begun to become a rarity thanks to the addition of Jose Mari in the defensive midfield, who is turning out to be an impressive offseason acquisition.
9. D.C. United
Compared to the product that D.C. United put out on the pitch last season, this season's defense looks like a world-class group.
All four starters were acquired during the offseason, as D.C. attempted to reshape its back line, which it has done in stellar fashion so far.
Bobby Boswell and Jeff Parke are a solid veteran duo at center-back, while Sean Franklin and Cristian have both done well on the wing to provide some much-needed stability to a side that was the worst in the league in 2013.
8. New York Red Bulls
Whenever your team contains a defensive rock in Jamison Olave, you will gain instant respect on defense.
When the players around Olave continue to turn in strong showings, a formidable defense has been forged.
That is what the New York Red Bulls have put together with Armando, Roy Miller and Kosuke Kimura being the main players starting in the back four alongside Olave.
While it did take some time for the entire team to get going in 2014, the Red Bulls are now on a three-game unbeaten run and have conceded just three times in their last four games.
7. Houston Dynamo
If this list was done after the first two weeks of the season, the Houston Dynamo may have been the top team.
However, the Dynamo back line has shown a few cracks in recent weeks, despite how strong they can play when all four players are in their best form.
David Horst is a beast at center-back, and he has the talent to shut down any attack on any given day because of his skill in the air.
Corey Ashe and Kofi Sarkodie are far from perfect at full-back, but, when at their best, they are near unstoppable to get past.
Since the Dynamo are a team built for the long haul, do not be surprised if this defense rounds into form at just the right time once again.
6. Seattle Sounders
Seattle may not be known for its defense, but in a season where Clint Dempsey and Obafemi Martins are lighting up the scoreboard, it doesn't have to be.
The addition of Chad Marshall has helped the Sounders back four gain some might, and, with DeAndre Yedlin continuing to sharpen his skills at right-back, there is a ton of talent on that part of the pitch.
The big X-factor to the Seattle defense is the play of the defensive midfield, which includes Osvaldo Alonso and Gonzalo Pineda, who, through eight games, have formed one of the best midfield pairings in the league.
By having that defensive brace in the front of the back four, the Sounders have yet to struggle as much as they did in 2013 on the defensive end.
5. Columbus Crew
Columbus has the most underrated defense in the league at the moment, and, as the season progresses, the back four should receive more credit for their abilities.
The Crew have conceded just seven times throughout their first seven games thanks to a center-back duo of Michael Parkhurst and Giancarlo Gonzalez that was put together during the preseason.
Parkhurst's shift from right-back to center-back has been successful so far, and the talent on the outside has not slipped up either, as Waylon Francis and Josh Williams have both been pleasant surprises.
This newly-forged back line should only get better as the four players continue to familiarize themselves with one another.
4. New England Revolution
With 2013 MLS Defender of the Year Jose Goncalves healthy, New England has one of the best defenses in the league.
Without Goncalves in the lineup, the defense may be even better, thanks to recent contributions from Andrew Farrell and Darrius Barnes.
Since Goncalves went down with a right quad injury a few weeks ago, the Revolution have shown that they have a lot more to offer at the back besides the powerful 28-year-old.
Farrell has shown his versatility by moving over to center-back from the right, and his play alongside A.J. Soares has been nothing short of stellar.
Add in to the mix contributions from Chris Tierney and Kevin Alston on the left, and you have yourself a deep and talented defensive core.
3. LA Galaxy
One thing the LA Galaxy defense is not short on is experience.
All across the back line, LA has players that have paid their dues in the league, or elsewhere, to deserve a spot in the starting lineup.
The biggest name on the depth chart is Omar Gonzalez, who is a consistent starter for the United States men's national team, but there are a few other important pieces that make the team tick.
A.J. DeLaGarza is always reliable on the right, while Leonardo has paired well with Gonzalez in the middle of the back four that sits in front of keeper Jaime Penedo.
In five games this season, league veterans Todd Dunivant, James Riley and Dan Gargan have also turned in respectable performances to make one of the best teams in the league strong at a position that gets overlooked at times because of the stars up front in Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane.
2. Real Salt Lake
Real Salt Lake's defensive unit is one that avoids the spotlight and does exactly what they are asked to do.
With a world-class keeper in Nick Rimando behind them, the RSL back four could easily let down their guard a bit, but they do the exact opposite.
Rimando's high standard of play rubs off on the defense that has proven to be stingy over the last few years, with Nat Borchers and Chris Schuler anchoring the unit at center-back.
Chris Wingert and Tony Beltran are also solid players at full-back, and it also doesn't hurt that Kyle Beckerman is patrolling the pitch right in front of the back four.
With a consistent and talented group on defense, it is no surprise that RSL has conceded just one goal per game in 2014.
1. Sporting Kansas City
Consistency and depth are two qualities that are mandatory for an MLS Cup champion, and that is what Sporting Kansas City features in its back four.
The center-back pairing of Matt Besler, who is the best American defender in the game, and Aurelien Collin, who is not one to shy away from a physical battle on the pitch, are the perfect complement to each other.
The full-backs may not get as much attention as they deserve because of the center-back pairing, but that does not mean that Seth Sinovic, Chance Myers and others have less quality in their respective games.
When one of the star players is out of the starting 11, manager Peter Vermes can count on a few solid options off the bench in Ike Opara and Lawrence Olum.
By possessing such depth and consistency, Sporting will undoubtedly go far into the 2014 MLS Cup playoffs and have a chance to repeat as champions.
Follow Joe on Twitter, @JTansey90.
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