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MLS Championship recipe: start with quality center backs

Apr 5, 2012, 11:25 AM EST

2011 MLS Cup - Portraits Getty Images

Show me an MLS champion, and I’ll show you a strong center back on patrol at that address.

You would need to go back to 2007 for the last time an MLS champion was crowned without a dominant center back. That year, Eddie Robinson and Ryan Cochrane competently stood as central sentinels along Houston’s back line. Both players were good MLS center backs – enforcers more than craftsmen – although not great ones.

But Houston’s overall team defense was fierce, so the center backs didn’t need to be famously adept at their trade, just solid clock-punchers. And they were.

Look at the teams that have won since then, and the men on watch in the middle of the back four:

  • 2011, Los Angeles Galaxy, Omar Gonzalez (pictured)
  • 2010, Colorado, Drew Moor and Marvell Wynne
  • 2009, Real Salt Lake, Jamison Olave and Nat Borchers
  • 2008, Columbus, Chad Marshall

The point is, no team with porous defense will ever hold an MLS title. It’s a sliding scale, of course; if the attack is outrageously talented, perhaps the defense need only be “good” and not “great.” Still, it must achieve something above middling competency. That takes quality center backs.

All of this is to set up one question:

What, in the name of Paolo Maldini, is Toronto FC doing?

The defense at BMO Field:  A) Is terrible. B) Has always been terrible. C) Shows little indication of crawling out of the “terrible” zone.

Last night’s 6-2 loss at Santos is just the latest file in this open-and-shut case. So give me a second to climb my little footstool and place last night’s thrashing right on top of this tall, tall stack of ever-mounting evidence.

John Molinaro from Canada’s Sports Net takes a deeper look at the Toronto’s long-running inability to address its most pressing problem. Hard to argue anything he says.

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