Andrew Wiebe took the wheel in ratting off his top five, which included several US men’s national team players as well as some international flavor.
As for honorable mentions, Antonio Carlos from Orlando City SC and Miles Robinson from Atlanta United were both kicked around. Wiebe also gave a nod to Ike Opara, though the Minnesota United defender’s availability isn’t clear, and Zakuani gave a hometown shoutout to Yeimar Gomez Andrade.
Here’s the full rundown, going from No. 1 to No. 5.
1. Walker Zimmerman – Nashville SC
After being named the 2020 MLS Defender of the Year, Wiebe gave top billing to Nashville’s leader at the back. Zimmerman powered Nashville to an expansion-year playoff run a season ago, and now expectations are to build upon that with a foundation established.
It also helps that Zimmerman, throughout his 162 MLS games, has chipped in 15 goals and four assists.
“I just think, all things considered, his threat on set pieces – certainly we know how dangerous he is there – but what he was able to provide as far as a foundation and as really a force multiplier for Nashville last year,” Wiebe said. “ … He was, in so many times, the basis of what they were doing and building around.”
2. Jonathan Mensah – Columbus Crew SC
Mensah captained Columbus to an MLS Cup title last year, anchoring the backline during his fourth year with the club. As they enter the Concacaf Champions League this year and open New Crew Stadium, the two-time World Cup participant with Ghana will again be counted upon.
“What he did in the playoffs, what he did through the entirety of last season is just unreal,” Wiebe said.
3. Eddie Segura – LAFC
Eddie Segura is entering his third LAFC season | USA Today Sports
Across the last two seasons, Segura has quietly been one of LAFC’s top players. Layer in the Colombian’s budding partnership with compatriot Jesus David Murillo, and Wiebe doesn’t envision the 24-year-old’s influence losing any steam.
“Jesus Murillo can probably get a shot in here as a complementary piece to Segura – both of them together were very, very good – but I have Eddie Segura at three for LAFC,” Wiebe said.
4. Matt Hedges – FC Dallas
Soon to turn 31, Hedges has been instrumental for FC Dallas since entering MLS in 2012. He’s racked up 16 goals and four assists across 262 appearances, injecting leadership on all fronts to Luchi Gonzalez’s team.
A rock at the back, Hedges has found consistency with whichever player he’s joined by in the heart of defense.
“You just write him into the lineup, you put the C on him, he is usually mistake-free and has gone through a good number of center-back partners and a lot of young players around him,” Wiebe said.
5. Aaron Long – New York Red Bulls
To some pushback on Extratime, Wiebe concluded his list with Long. But the USMNT mainstay could thrive in RBNY head coach Gerhard Struber’s system, even with longtime partner Tim Parker traded to Houston Dynamo FC this offseason.
Earlier this winter, Long was again linked to a European transfer that didn’t materialize.
“I know that last year was not a vintage year for Aaron Long,” Wiebe said, “but I think on the grand scheme of talent, of ability, on the odds of bouncing back with a new coach who will put him back in the positions that he was so comfortable and effective in with Jesse Marsch, I think Aaron Long absolutely has the chance to have a huge resurgent season.”
Did Extratime get it right? Are there others who should be on the list? Check out the entire show here for more.