In the ultra-competitive Eastern Conference, you won’t get ahead without a stable backline. As Orlando City SC and Atlanta United get set to square off on Friday night (7 pm ET, ESPN, ESPN Deportes in US; TSN1/3/4/5 in Canada), two names will be among the first on their respective team sheets.
Orlando’s Jonathan Spector and Atlanta’s Michael Parkhurst share a number of similarities. Each qualifies as a veteran, with more than two decades of professional experience between them. Each have tried their hands overseas – Parkhurst in Denmark and Germany, Spector in England. And each player brought much-needed savvy to their respective teams.
Parkhurst has been a mainstay in Atlanta’s lineup, racking up 1,698 minutes while starting all 19 of Atlanta United’s matches. The quality of performances were judged to be good enough to be selected to the All-Star team on Tuesday. Spector, on the other hand, steered his squad to six victories in the season’s first seven games – quite a feat to start the season when you consider Orlando’s leaky defensive record in 2016.
When it comes to their differences, however, the Audi Player Index numbers tease out a story of very different playing styles.
Spector, for example, appears to play a more defensive role. He dominates the airspace in the back, having won 46 aerial duels to Parkhurst’s 14. He can also step into passing lanes, too – he bests Parkhurst again in the interception category, 112-76.
His counterpart, though, gets more involved in the buildup. Parkhurst’s numbers show a player who’s able to distribute the ball in a number of different ways. Not only is he getting into the opponent’s half with regularity, but he can also change the point of attack with a long ball.
When compared to the MLS average for central defenders, it’s clear that Spector has set himself well above the league average of 431 Audi Index points. That average is good enough to place him 29th in the Audi Player Index Award rankings. Parkhurst, to his own credit, is also above average -- the former MLS Defender of the Year continues to fight off Father Time to post a strong average score of 273.
What may not appear in the box score, however, is the continuity both players have provided their respective teams by staying healthy and in the lineup. As these two teams jockey for position in the Eastern Conference playoff race, these two standout central defenders will no doubt be in the thick of the action.