There have been some wonderful players over the 25-year history of MLS, but who ranks in the top five centre-backs of all-time?
Here at MLS Multiplex, we have gone back through the statistics, the awards won, the games played, the goals scored and the shutouts made to work out who we think are the best five players in the seven major positions in Major League Soccer history.
We have gone through the goalkeepers and full-backs already, and we will go on to talk about the central midfielders, attacking midfielders, wingers and strikers across the rest of this series. In this piece, though, the centre-backs are the main talking point.
There have been some epic centre-backs, and some great centre-half partnerships over the 25-year history of Major League Soccer, and every single member of our top five list has taken home the coveted MLS Defender of the Year award during their careers, some having won the award multiple times.
There are also some winners of the Defender of the Year award that do not make it into our top five, including the likes of 2010 winner Jamison Olave, 2006 recipient Bobby Boswell and Jimmy Conrad, the man who took home the 2005 award.
Between our top five, though, there is a whopping 20 MLS Best XI nominations, plus two members of the All-Time Best XI. There are 14 MLS Cups between our five men, along with 12 Supporters’ Shields, three U.S. Open Cups, three CONCACAF Champions Leagues and even a handful of international trophies among them. Who makes the top five, though?
5. Omar Gonzalez
Taking the first place on our list of the best-ever centre-backs to have played in Major League Soccer is the only player in our top five that still currently plays in the American top-flight, Toronto’s Omar Gonzalez.
Prior to playing in the league, the American played his college soccer at the University of Maryland, featuring 69 times over three years for the Terrapins. In his sophomore year, he was named as the ACC Defensive Player of the Year, before then receiving nominations to the NCAA All-American First Team and the First Team All-ACC in his final year, 2008.
MLS Career & Honours:
- LA Galaxy (2009-2015)
- Toronto FC (2019-)
- MLS Defender of the Year – 2011
- MLS Best XI – 2010, 2011, 2013, 2014
- MLS Rookie of the Year – 2009
- CONCACAF Gold Cup Best XI – 2017
- MLS Cup – 2011, 2012, 2014
- Supporters’ Shield – 2010, 2011
- CONCACAF Gold Cup – 2013, 2017
Gonzalez was taken with the third overall pick in the 2009 MLS SuperDraft by LA Galaxy and immediately became a regular starter, as the side would embark on a period of dominance unseen since the first four years in MLS history when D.C United won three MLS Cups from 1996-1999.
He started more games in his rookie season than he has in any campaign since, and his performances saw him named MLS Rookie of the Year as he helped rejuvenate the Galaxy. The side had finished in 5th in the Western Conference the year before and has missed out on the post-season, but with the help of Gonzalez among others, they climbed back to the top of the West for the first time since 2002. The 2009 side made it to the MLS Cup final but lost out to Real Salt Lake on penalties.
From then on, the defender’s career went from strength to strength, taking home either a winners’ medal or an individual accolade in each of the next five seasons. It started in 2010, as the American’s performances earned him his first nod to the MLS Best XI, alongside team-mates Donovan Ricketts, Landon Donovan and Edson Buddle. The Galaxy finished top of the West again, and also top of the entire league, winning the Supporters’ Shield for the first time in eight years.
He would go one better, both individually and collectively, in 2011, as he was named MLS Defender of the Year, after playing 29 regular-season matches, whilst also adding a couple of goals for the team as well. Once again, the Galaxy lifted the Supporters’ Shield trophy, and this time, they went on to take MLS Cup glory as well, beating Houston Dynamo 1-0 in the final at Home Depot Center.
There were no individual accolades for Gonzalez in 2012, due to an injury-hit campaign in which he was only able to play 14 games. However, the Galaxy did go on to defend their MLS Cup title and remain the most recent side to have won the trophy in back-to-back years.
The American, who has received his first international cap three years previous, was a part of the CONCACAF Gold Cup-winning team in 2013, as the United States defeated Panama in the final, with Landon Donovan and Chris Wondolowski both scoring five goals across the tournament. Gonzalez has scored three times, and they have all come in Gold Cup competition, with his first goal coming in the 2015 event, before scoring twice in seven days in the 2017 edition, which the USMNT went on to win as well, with the centre-back part of a second international trophy-winning team.
Back in MLS with the Galaxy, and the 2013 term saw a return to form for Gonzalez, who was back to full fitness after the injuries of the year before. He received another nod to the MLS Best XI and would go on to be named in the season’s best team in 2014 as well, making it four nominations in five seasons for the defender.
The 2014 campaign also saw the Galaxy win the MLS Cup for a third time in four years, as they defeated New England Revolution 2-1 on home soil at the StubHub Center, with Gonzalez a key part of their success. He then played 30 times during the regular season in 2015 but would leave MLS following the conclusion of the campaign, moving south to join Mexican side Pachuca.
After being part of their side that lifted the CONCACAF Champions League in 2016-17, and then winning the CONCACAF Gold Cup with the United States later that year, Gonzalez spent another couple of seasons south of the border, before moving to the extreme north, joining former MLS Cup champions Toronto FC in June 2019.
The American has played 16 regular-season games for the Canadian side, including playing all 180 minutes of the two games at the start of the 2020 campaign before it was interrupted by the COVID-19 outbreak. As it stands, Gonzalez has 196 regular-season appearances to his name, along with 26 post-season games under his belt as well. Three titles, four Best XI nominations and the 2011 MLS Defender of the Year, the American was named into Bobby Warshaw’s Best XI of the 2010s as well, alongside another man on the list at the heart of the defence.