Who are the top 5 outside backs in MLS? Extratime debates

Anton Tinnerholm - NYCFC - right back

Who’s the best outside back in MLS?

That question was kicked around on the latest Extratime episode, leading to co-host David Gass rattling off his top five and a few honorable mentions, sparking further conversation with co-host Andrew Wiebe and guest Patrice Bernier. 

Check out Gass’ list below, plus the entire debate and further explanations. Some honorable mentions they floated were Tajon Buchanan (New England Revolution) and Richie Laryea (Toronto FC), two Canadians, as well as Houston Dynamo FC left back Adam Lundqvist.

1. Anton Tinnerholm – NYCFC

Gass identified a clear favorite atop the list: NYCFC right back Anton Tinnerholm, who finished fourth in 2020 MLS Defender of the Year voting. 

The 30-year-old Swede is entering his fourth year with NYCFC, and has nine goals and 18 assists through 84 games. His two-way play makes him a constant threat for head coach Ronny Deila’s side.

“That, to me, felt like the safe pick [where] he’s the best all-around fullback,” Gass said. “He’s aggressive offensively, he’s clean in possession, he can create chances and he’s pretty locked down defensively. I voted him in my defensive player of the year voting. I think he was the only fullback in that conversation.”

2. Ryan Hollingshead – FC Dallas

Hollingshead is remarkably versatile for FC Dallas, though mostly plays left back. The 29-year-old is entering his eighth season in MLS, and has emerged as an underrated piece along the backline.

Across the last two seasons, Hollingshead has a combined 10 goals and four assists in 54 games.

“A lot of people didn’t even have him on a list,” Gass said. “They didn’t know, is he a right back this year or a left back? Is he a midfielder like he did in the playoffs? To me, all that is a positive, that he’s an all-star left back and he can do all those things.”

3. Kai Wagner – Philadelphia Union

Who are the top 5 outside backs in MLS? Extratime debates - https://league-mp7static.mlsdigital.net/styles/image_default/s3/images/KaiW.jpg

Kai Wagner is entering his third season with Philadelphia | USA Today Sports

There were wintertime rumors that Wagner would head back to Europe, but then the German left back signed a contract extension with Philly in January. That locked down the 24-year-old after he arrived from German side Würzburger Kickers and with a modest profile.

Across two seasons with the 2020 Supporters’ Shield champions, Wagner has one goal and 10 assists in 44 games (all starts).

“There was rumors of him going to the EPL for a reason and I really like what he can do in possession,” Gass said. “He was such a key piece for Philly, when they get narrow for him to get forward and create chances for those two forwards.”

4. Aaron Herrera – Real Salt Lake

Recently capped by the US men’s national team, Herrera is a homegrown player for RSL. This past winter, the right back also reportedly had Serie A suitors.

Now 23, Herrera has five assists in 68 games across the past three seasons. He’s a true two-way player, too.

“I think he’s as tough defensively as there is in this league,” Gass said, “and you’ve seen him at RSL, when they have better pieces around him, get forward, be in possession, be dangerous offensively.”

5. Ruan – Orlando City SC

Gass and others had trouble settling on a fifth player, but they ultimately went with Orlando’s Ruan

One of the fastest players in MLS, the Brazilian right back presents all sorts of challenges for wingers tracking back. He’s logged nine assists in 46 games the last two seasons.

“I think he might be the best attacking fullback for a two-way player,” Gass said. “As much as he brings to the attack, he’s still not a defensive liability. Whereas like we talked about with Tajon and Richie, they are attacking players starting at that position.”

Did Extratime get it right? Are there others who should be on the list? Check out the entire show here for more.