With all the due attention paid to retiring star netminders Tim Howard and Nick Rimando, there hasn't been nearly as much fanfare over the also soon-to-depart Michael Parkhurst.
Part of that is because he's still alive in the MLS Cup chase, meaning there will likely be time to spotlight one of the league's all-time greats in the heart of defense once he's actually hung 'em up. But we've decided to beat the tribute rush by gauging exactly where Parkhurst fits in the list of Major League Soccer's best-ever center backs. As is typical with these all-time rankings, it was anything but a simple task.
I've surveyed some of my MLSsoccer.com colleagues for their opinions on the matter, but as always, the final ranking call was down to me alone. Before we get on to the countdown, let's send a shout-out to a rather illustrious group of near misses: Nat Borchers, Bobby Boswell, C.J. Brown, Danny Califf, John Doyle, Matt Hedges, Lubos Kubik, Alexi Lalas, Carlos Llamosa, Ryan Nelsen, Ike Opara.
No. 10: Marcelo Balboa
Marcelo Balboa during World Cup 1994 | USA Today Sports Images
Though the US national team star was nearly 30 when MLS began, that didn't stop him from being as daring as any center back to play in the league since. Balboa was a sight to behold at both ends, notching an impressive 24 goals and 23 assists on his many forays forward.
No. 9: Matt Besler
The Sporting KC man has been a member of the top tier of MLS center backs for a decade. Smart, strong in positioning and consistent to a fault, Besler is a foreboding presence who has averaged a gentlemanly 0.81 fouls per game over his career.
No. 8: Jamison Olave
Jamison Olave with RSL | USA Today Sports Images
In his prime, the tower of power was one of the most dominating central defenders ever seen in MLS. Olave helped Real Salt Lake claim its first (and to date only) MLS Cup and was a star on the first-ever Supporters’ Shield-winning New York Red Bulls side.
No. 7: Jimmy Conrad
Now known for the abundance of entertaininhg content he produces, Conrad was serious business as a player. The ultimate battler, he was named to the Best XI four times and is one of only seven players honored as a Sporting Legend in Kansas City.
No. 6: Michael Parkhurst
Although relatively short for a center back, Parkhurst more than made up for it in a number of ways. He's among the very best defenders to ever play in MLS at both positioning and playing out of the back. Parkhurst is also arguably the cleanest cat burglar in league history; he incredibly won the 2007 Defender of the Year award while committing just five fouls, and none worth a booking.
No. 5: Robin Fraser
In the early days of Major League Soccer, Fraser was the LA Galaxy's elegant cop in defense. Though already 29 when the league started, he garnered five Best XI nods (a record for back liners) and a pair of Defender of the Year prizes. Now the Colorado Rapids’ head coach, Fraser also mentored the guy who tops this list during his final two seasons.
No. 4: Carlos Bocanegra
While he spent only four of his prime seasons in MLS, Bocanegra certainly made them count. After picking up Rookie of the Year honors and celebrating the first of his two US Open Cups in 2000, he became the first man to claim back-to-back Defender of the Year awards. Big and talented enough to spend his best years in the English Premier League, he also captained the USMNT at World Cup 2010.
No. 3: Omar Gonzalez
One of only five defenders to earn Best XI honors at least four times, Gonzalez is freshly into his second MLS stint after three and a half years spent in Liga MX. Before leaving, the dedicated air marshal helped the Galaxy claim three MLS Cups while grabbing Rookie of the Year and Defender of the Year honors for himself. He returned from Mexico this summer, instantly making Toronto FC much stingier.
No. 2: Eddie Pope
Eddie Pope on USMNT duty | USA Today Sports Images
Most defenders have a hole somewhere in their game for opponents to exploit. That was not the case with our second-placed entrant, who could pick a pocket no matter how you went at him. Pope could run with anyone on the ground and jump with anyone in the air. He even had a knack for surging into attack at the most opportune moments, such as when he scored huge title-winning goals in the first MLS Cup and the 1998 Champions Cup.
No. 1: Chad Marshall
When making up all-time lists like this, I'm often forced to decide between stars who burned brightest and those whose excellence lasted longest. With Marshall, there's no need to make such a choice. He fits both bills to a tee. Consistently tidy both on and against the ball during his 16 years in the league, Marshall is the only player to win three Defender of the Year awards and finished as the runner-up following his final full season.