2011 MLS Previews: Midfield Rankings

2011 MLS Previews: Midfield Rankings

  • Posted by Drew Epperley
  • On March 7, 2011
  • 11 Comments
  • 2011 MLS Power Rankings, 2011 MLS Season, 2011 Season Preview

RSL and FCD two of the top midfields in the league going into 2011. (Getty Images)

We are over the half way line in the positional rankings here as the 2011 Major League Soccer season inches closer to starting. Last week I looked at keepers and defensive rankings. Today is midfielders, which will be followed by strikers and lastly (likely next week) my overall team Power Rankings to kick off the new season.

Once again I took the rankings to the Twittersphere to see what the fans thought about various club’s midfields. While most made the same arguments, there were a couple that I may have disagreed with here. Nothing major in the disagreement though.

Now the midfield is a key part of any club, which may make it one of the harder areas to rank. Looking at starters and the depth behind them doesn’t make the process any easier. Some teams are set at their starters but have absolutely nothing behind them, while others aren’t as top heavy and are more balanced.

1. Real Salt Lake – Top defense, one of the top keepers and the top midfield? Yeah, it’s true. Honestly I had a hard time coming up with any plausible excuse to rank any other club above RSL in the midfield category. With guys like Will Johnson (who I think will have a huge year), Javier Morales (always a MVP candidate), Kyle Beckerman, and Andy Williams. The depth is there for the club to go deep once more this season.

2. LA Galaxy – I really felt Bruce Arena did a great job this winter at making his midfield younger and stronger. Between having David Beckham possibly for the entire season, Landon Donovan, second-year player Michael Stephens, and Brazilian youngster Juninho, the Galaxy look loaded once again this season.

3. Colorado Rapids – I thought about ranking the defending champions higher but their depth worried me enough to knock them down to three. That still is no slight to how talented their main core of midfielders are here. Jeff Larentowicz and Pablo Mastroeni made for one hell of a tandem in the defensive side of the midfield a season ago and guys like Brian Mullen and newcomer Sanna Nyassi on the wings should be fun to watch.

4. FC Dallas – I know the club lost both Atiba Harris and Dax McCarty but I still view them as a top five group with reigning MVP David Ferreria leading the charge. The addition of Andrew Jacobson this preseason also gives me a reason to believe that the club will continue to be very strong in ball possession and movement. Having Brek Shea and Marvin Chavez on the wings along with Daniel Hernandez in the defensive side of things, tell me FC Dallas is still going to be a force to deal with in 2011.

5. Seattle Sounders FC – Some may think this will be too high but the top-to-bottom group that the Sounders have here really impresses me. Steve Zakuani should be set for a monster year on the wings while Osvaldo Alonso in the defensive side of the ball continues to be one of the more underrated players in the league.

6. New York Red Bulls – This group continues to intrige me. I see Joel Lindpere still as one of the better offensive links in the league and Dane Richards’ growth last season can’t be overlooked. I think their youth in this position will really serve them well down the road though. Guys like Toni Tchani, Sacir Hot, Matt Kassell and even John Rooney all provide quality depth that this club will need in 2011.

7. San Jose Earthquakes – I still view the Quakes as a very underrated club, even with the lack of depth or quality moves this winter. Between Bobby Convey, Ramiro Corrales, and Sam Cronin, the Quakes have a group of players that have shown they can navigate through a long MLS season and still do well against the big boys when it matters.

8. Philadelphia Union – A low mark or a high mark for Philly here? You gotta remember they have Sebastien Le Toux as well who had a monster season in 2010. I think they got better too this winter with the addition of Brian Carroll from Columbus. Throw in the continued growth of their young core (Amobi Okugo, Roger Torres, Zack Pfeffer and Michael Farfan), the Union should be a team on the rise in a wide-open Eastern Conference.

9. Houston Dynamo – Dominic Kinnear’s bunch is still a quality side as long as they don’t get too banged up. Geoff Cameron is the key focal point in the midfield, as he goes so will this club. But you can’t forget about the MLS-assist machine that is Brad Davis. If they lose an ounce of his productivity this year they’ll be hurting offensively. My gut tells me this ranking will be higher on season’s end.

10. D.C. United – Add Dax McCarty, get a full year out of DP Branko Boskovic, and continue to push with young talent like Andy Najar and this club is going places. They may still be a year away from being anything real special but clubs cannot over look D.C. this season. Ben Olsen still needs to build a little more depth to make them contenders in the easy however.

11. Sporting Kansas City – The Jack Jewsbury trade made me put them a little lower than I thought I would. Still with Ryan Smith, Stephane Auvrey, and Davy Arunad, this club will still be interesting to watch this season. Depth could be an issue as they’re fairly thin across the board.

12. Chivas USA – I nearly put Chivas a little higher but here but elected to keep them at 12 due to how young and how thing they possibly are in the midfield. I think Robin Fraser has a lot of work to do to this group before this club does any sort of damages in a crowded Western Conference. Saying that, however, I do like their youth. Blair Gavin, Michael Lahoud, and Ben Zamanski.

13. Columbus Crew – You can’t lose someone like Guillermo Barros Schelotto and key guys like Brian Carroll and not get knocked down a few pegs. I will say though that this group is still going to be very underrated as people will continue to knock them down early on this season for the moves they made this winter. They still have quality guys like Robbie Rogers, Eddie Gavin and Emmanuel Ekpo and they’ll continue to get more production this season out of guys like Dilly Duka.

14. New England Revolution – This could be higher depending on how the whole Shalrie Joseph situation plays out. With Joseph on his A-game in New England, the Revs midfield is much better because of him. But with distractions and more pressure to score this season (who do they have up top again?), this bunch will still be in the mix down near the bottom.

15. Portland Timbers – I’ve made plenty of jokes surrounding the Portland line up in recent days but their midfield group isn’t all that bad. They’re young but the veteran mix of Jewsbury, Ryan Pore (very quality player), Adam Moffat and Jeremy Hall should excite some of the locals at PGE Park. The depth will take some time to build up though.

16. Chicago Fire – Lower than an expansion team? Yeah. This ranking could be too low to some but even with Marco Pappa, Logan Pause and Mike Banner there I find their lineup extremely thin. Should one of those three get hurt for any extended time, this club could be in trouble.

17. Vancouver Whitecaps – I have to admit, it is pretty hard to rate the Whitecaps right now. Saying that I do like what they have signed more than what is below them in these rankings. I’m curious to see how the change in location will help guys like Shea Salines and John Thorrington. After a strong season in Dallas, Atiba Harris is also someone worth keeping an eye out for.

18. Toronto FC – Have you seen them play in preseason so far? It hasn’t been pretty. Sure they have Dwayne De Rosario and Julian de Guzman but after that the club is paper thin. Maybe once all the signings take place for Aron Winter this group will come together nicely at the start of the season but really it hasn’t been that great so far in preseason.

  • Chivas, NE, Tor and the Two expansions are at the bottom for me. Fire, though thin, have incredible talent in Nyarko and Pappa if played in the midfield, so I don’t think should be ranked so low. Columbus still has Gaven and Rogers but really lost a lot and brought nothing in except rookies to replace it.

    The Union and DC are two big question marks for me, on paper both look nice. Union have 3 out of 4 spots filled with Mapp–Carroll–?—Le Toux but who fills that ? and where does Torres fit in and how good can Okugo be? DC looks like a beast on paper. Dax has been on fire during preseason and they have this kid who won ROY at 17 yrs old, pair that with Quarenta, Brako and Clyde Simms and they should be just outside of Top 5. Can’t argue with the top, it seems to start with a great defensive mid, a decisive passer next to him and then two wings who can penetrate defensive back lines.

    If Dallas goes to 4-4-2, are they ranked as high?

    • Yes, a 4-4-2 for Dallas still puts them in the top part of the list for me. And that is me taking any biased opinion of the club out of the picture too. The depth is there for Dallas and should some additions pan out like I think they might, they’ll be fine.

  • Matt Rosen

    You are way off on the Chicago Ranking. Banner isn’t even a starter and Midfield is definitely the strength of the Fire this year.Ristic, Husidic, Nyarko are all valuable midfielders and now Davis Paul adds a new dimension on the flanks and there is the experienced Croatian Marko Maric now too. There is no reason Portland should be higher for instance. Chivas? San Jose?

  • chris @ ratetheplayers.com

    Did you not realize that Nyarko is a midfielder?

    He was tied for 5th in the league with 10 assists last year, and you’re worried about Mike Banner getting hurt?

    Ristic is also a top quality player in midfield and Baggio averages a goal every 180 minutes.

    You are way off.

  • Easy now. I get that Nyarko is missing from this because the list I was viewing of the Fire had him as a forward. Forgive me.

    The Fire ranking is low but they have plenty of time to prove me wrong. Chill out, its only preseason.

  • Dan

    I think this is a tough position to rank accurately. With defenders, goalkeepers, and even forwards, there are good objective indicators if they are doing their job, and if they are doing their job better than another team. Midfielders do so much and play so many different roles that its hard to really distinguish the majority of teams. For example is David Ferreira a forward or midfielder, where he is on the chalk board and what he does on the field might say two different things. Or is a defensive minded midfield like Colorado’s, valued more highly than Dallas’s creative crop of young attacking wing players.

    That being said, I agree with the top 5.

    I’ll put money on New England and Houston’s midfield being stronger than projected. Houston is going to get some quality plays out of young guys like Danny Cruz and Cobo this season. For New England the addition of a veteran like Dabo will help stabalize their possession game and Stephen McCarthy is going add depth the defensive side of the ball. I think the contribution of guys like Nyassi and Tierney is a little underrated.

    My two cents. I’ve enjoyed these posts so far.

  • joe

    The crew has quality guys like Rogers and Gaven, are you joking.There not soccer player material.Gaven has played for seven years and is still the same player. He hasn’t produced much and runs like if he tried all the time. Rogers is the worst player on the crew team.Players like him you could find in high schools everywhere. He hasn’t produced anything in four years.
    Ekpo is good but coach RR should play him with better players so they could have better chemistry on the field. Dilly Duka, is another story but too bad that no one knows how good this kid is b/c the crew don’t want no one to see what this kid could do.He is a great player and could be one of Columbus best players.The Crew coach and management are not playing him because they don’t want the fan to notice how good this player really is. They want to use him for next year to make it look like they produced him but that will never be true. A Player like him is a natural soccer player and you can’t produce them they just have it in them.No one Player could be thought they have it naturally.

  • Lonecoyote

    Banner will be lucky to get in at all.
    I’d say he sucks but he isn’t that good.
    Nyarko will be playing at mid-field at times as well as Ristic.
    You’re homework needs improvement.
    One of the biggest losses was getting rid of Lowry.
    Also, the Fire picked up several defensive midfielders.
    What they lack is a pure ACM, I’d rate the Fire about 9th or 10th,
    but with the weakness of the coach and the FO, there is a possiblity that the
    midfield could be bad as you say.
    Banner easily is the Fire’s least liked player by most fans.

  • Lonecoyote

    Banner will be lucky to get in at all.
    I’d say he sucks but he isn’t that good.
    Nyarko will be playing at mid-field at times as well as Ristic.
    You’re homework needs improvement.
    One of the biggest losses was getting rid of Lowry.
    Also, the Fire picked up several defensive midfielders.
    What they lack is a pure ACM, I’d rate the Fire about 9th or 10th,
    but with the weakness of the coach and the FO, there is a possiblity that the
    midfield could be bad as you say.
    Banner easily is the Fire’s least liked player by most fans.

  • Jason

    “Ben Olsen still needs to build a little more depth to make them contenders in the east however.”

    Fred, Quaranta, and Pontius aren’t enough depth? Not to mention Shanosky and Kitchen as possible DM candidates should something happen with Simms? I was expecting you to have DC in the top ten, but they should be higher than SJ, Houston, and Philly based on depth alone.

  • william

    I had the chance to watch a preseason match in person between the Revs and the Crew in Chattanooga. The Crew lost but they look really good. Dilly Duka was dangerous and will be fantastic. Also, the style of both teams was really inspiring–lots of creativity, great passing and excellent skillful defensive play. I was impressed and I’m not a fan of ether team. Hope this style wasn’t and aberration for MLS as a whole!!
    I also could help noticing the way the crew coach was yelling at only Duka the hole entire time for no apparent reason just yelling like a maniac. Even when the kid didn’t even have the ball. This coach should be fired for the abuse this kid is getting on the crew team. The kid know how to play and played great there was no need for the crew coach to yell at him he didn’t make any mistake on the field.