Armchair Analyst: Castrol Index shows 2011 the Year of the Defender

RSL's Borchers leads the way in a season dominated by defense

borchers-the-golem (620x350)

Photo Credit: 
George Frey / Getty Images

So we can all agree that Nat Borchers has been the best defender in MLS this year, right?

Ok, maybe not. There are sure to be some Omar Gonzalez, George John and
Futty Danso fans out there. Seriously, Futty’s in with a shout.

If the Castrol Index has shown us anything, it’s the importance of a
dominant central defensive presence. The four mentioned are the ones who
rate the best using Castrol’s methodology, and their team records back
up the stats.

Portland took off once Futty got himself into the lineup. In Dallas,
David Ferreira’s injury is (justifiably) the big news of the season, but
John’s fitness should be the main concern. Once he got well, FC Dallas
got good. Once he picked up a knock, they looked — however briefly —
mortal again.

It's no surprise Greece are trying to cap him.

The story in LA is the same. Gonzalez missed the first few weeks and
took a few more to get back up to speed. Since he’s been there, the
Galaxy have been the league’s best and have now thrown four straight
shutouts.

But it’s Borchers who’s been the best. He’s been solid
from day one, his team’s boasting the lowest goals-against and highest
points-per-game averages in the league, and unlike Gonzalez, John and
Futty, Borchers hasn’t had a rock-solid defensive partner.

That’s not meant to be a shot at Jámison Olave, who has himself a very
nice track record in MLS. But 2011 — even before the red card against
Seattle two weeks ago — has not produced the same, self-assured defense
from the big man.

So Borchers has been great, and he’s hardly doing it all by his
lonesome, but the way he’s handled his increased responsibility on both
sides of the ball has been outstanding. I mean that in the literal sense
— Borchers’ play this season has been impossible to miss, even without
the benefit of statistical analysis.

With statistical analysis, we get this: He’s among the league leaders
in clearances, among the defensive leaders in interceptions, remains
dominant in the air and completes nearly 90 percent of his passes.

Those aren’t the numbers of a defender merely having a “pretty good year.” Those are the numbers of a league MVP.

While 2011 has been a good year thus far for central defenders,
it’s been pretty miserable for central midfielders. Osvaldo Alonso, at
No. 22, is the highest on the list and the only true central midfielder
in the top 30. The highest-ranked central attacking midfielder is Geoff
Cameron — a guy who’s not really a central attacking midfielder (he
plays in the middle of the “3” in a 4-1-3-2), and was moved to central
defense this past weekend.

The Galaxy central duo of David Beckham — who began the season on the
wing — and Juninho are the only pair of central midfield teammates to
crack the top 40.

Part of that is due to long-term injuries to Ferreira, Javier Morales
and Branko Boskovic. But another part, more of a long-term part, is the
gradual shift of playmakers to the wings.

Landon Donovan, after all, was once considered a central player,
spending a great deal of time in the central midfield and as a withdrawn
forward before eventually finding his home on the flanks. Steve Zakuani
was ranked No. 2 through April; once he got hurt, his replacement,
Álvaro Fernández, took the baton.

Most of the other midfielders Castrol rates highly — Brad Evans, Dane
Richards, Eddie Gaven, Marco Pappa, Ned Grabavoy — are generally more at
home on the flanks despite the fact that, of the bunch, Richards is the
only one who’s a real, honest-to-goodness winger.

In terms of a “pure” No. 10, a guy who sits behind two
strikers and creates? There aren’t many in the league who fit that
role, but of the ones that do, Nick LaBrocca of Chivas USA has been the
best. Dwayne De Rosario is up there as well.

They’re the only two in the top 50. Attacking down the central channel is just not done like it was a decade ago.

That said, as the season progresses and teams get on the same page,
more playmakers are likely to creep up the rankings. Youngsters like
Corben Bone, Dilly Duka and Collen Warner are all getting a shot and
have had, to one degree or another, impressive moments. If they fight
their way into the starting lineup, and if Tom Soehn eventually caves
and puts Davide Chiumiento at the point of a diamond midfield, LaBrocca
and De Rosario may not end up being so lonely.

Five months from now, maybe we’ll decide that was the story of 2011.

But for now, it’s all about Nat.