Climbing the Ladder: MLS' most frequent pairings

It’s February, which means that the 2012 MLS preseason is underway. It also means that Valentine’s Day is just around the corner. It might seem like those two things are completely unrelated, but there have actually been plenty of romance-related stories in league history.

It’s hard to escape stories about David Beckham’s love life, while former FC Dallas goalkeeper and current Real Salt Lake assistant coach Jeff Cassar was once a finalist for The Bachelor, the dating reality show. Then there’s the constant stream of stories proclaiming a certain player as one of the “hottest singles” or “most eligible bachelors” in Cosmopolitan or other magazines – the league’s PR department has certainly done a good job getting those stories out.

One of the most heartwarming stories involved the recently retired Andy Williams, whose desperate pleas for a bone marrow donor to aid his cancer-stricken wife were eventually answered.

While there’s no actual romance involved with the MLS season, there have been plenty of memorable pairings. For instance, Chicago’s “Damante Razalph” strike partnership poured in the goals in 2003. Otherwise known as Damani Ralph and Ante Razov, the magic didn’t last beyond that season. Currently, the center back duo of Nat Borchers and Jámison Olave has proved dominant defensively for RSL. It’s lasted a few years and still going strong.

However, Borchers and Olave haven’t even started the most games together in their team’s history.  And they certainly don’t come close to the league record. Which partnerships have played the most games together for each MLS team, and who holds that league record?

Most Regular-Season Games Started by Teammates

24 – Camilo & Alain Rochat (Vancouver Whitecaps)

28 – Eric Brunner & Jack Jewsbury (Portland Timbers)

59 – Danny Califf & Sébastien Le Toux (Philadelphia Union)

They started 59 of the Union’s first 64 games together, while no one else started more than 45 games individually. With the trade of Le Toux to Vancouver, this is no longer an active pairing. Only four team leading combinations are active, including last year’s two expansion teams.

67 – Jim Brennan & Carl Robinson (Toronto FC)

73 – Pablo Mastroeni & Diego Serna (Miami Fusion)

78 – Juan Pablo Ángel & Seth Stammler (New York Red Bulls)

New York’s pair is one of four here to not include the player who leads the team in all-time starts. In this case, that’s Mike Petke. The total of 78 games is the lowest of the original MLS teams, behind several recent expansion teams. That’s to be expected considering that the team has used a league-leading 253 players in its history. Ángel is tied for ninth in Red Bull starts, the lowest ranked player to lead a team, while Stammler is third.

82 – Kasey Keller & James Riley (Seattle Sounders)

96 – Jonathan Bornstein & Sacha Kljestan (Chivas USA)

100 – Wade Barrett & Ronald Cerritos (San Jose Earthquakes)

With the gap in the team’s history between 2005 and 2008, the most frequent teammates end up not being any of the top three in Earthquakes starts (Ramiro Corrales, Joe Cannon, Richard Mulrooney). Cannon/Corrales is second.

100 – Marcelo Balboa & Paul Bravo (Colorado Rapids)

Despite having made 210 starts for the Rapids, captain Pablo Mastroeni hasn’t hit triple digits with anyone else. While the team’s perennial turnover seems to now be a thing of the past, two old Rapids stalwarts who end up on top. Both starred in the team’s run to the 1997 MLS Cup final.

109 – Steve Ralston & Carlos Valderrama (Tampa Bay Mutiny)

112 – Nat Borchers & Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake)

Borchers/Rimando ends up with just one more game started than Beckerman/Rimando – 112 to 111. Rimando/Wingert comes in third with 105 games.

116 – Brian Mullan & Pat Onstad (Houston Dynamo)

Brad Davis leads the team in all-time starts, but his penchant for injuries paved the way for these two to top him.

128 – Richard Farrer & Jason Kreis (FC Dallas)

It was only a matter for Dallas to see who would be paired with Kreis. Farrer narrowly edges out Jorge Rodríguez (124) and Oscar Pareja (117).

138 – Jaime Moreno & Ben Olsen (D.C. United)

Moreno and Marco Etcheverry may seem like a more classic duo, but they only started 124 times together, which ranks second. Moreno/Namoff is a close third.

142 – Mike Clark & Brian McBride (Columbus Crew)

The former defender Clark is among the all time leaders for most games played with only one MLS team.

173 – Chris Armas & C.J. Brown (Chicago Fire)

Brown/Thornton ranks second, with Marsch/Thornton third. The much debated midfield combo of Armas/Marsch isn’t even close; it always seemed like one of the two was hurt at any given time.

186 – Kevin Hartman & Cobi Jones (LA Galaxy)

189 – Shalrie Joseph & Matt Reis (New England Revolution)

This is the number one active pair of teammates, and they very well could break this record in 2012. They only need to start twelve more games together to do it. If they don’t miss a game, it could happen on May 26 at D.C. United.

200 – Nick Garcia & Kerry Zavagnin (Sporting Kansas City)

Garcia/Zavagnin’s 200 games started together isn’t just a Kansas City record, it’s a league record for two teammates regardless of how many teams they’ve played for. As new additions in 2000, both instantly proved to be solid starters that would led to that year’s MLS Cup win, and would solidify the then-Wizards lineup for years to come.