Hold the Line: Beckerman v. Alonso

Who's the best D-Mid in MLS? Beckerman tops in our book

Kyle Beckerman v. Osvaldo Alonso

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The Debater

Sam Stejskal

Real Salt Lake

Matt Gaschk

Seattle Sounders FC 

The Argument Enough of Alonso, Kyle Beckerman is the best defensive midfielder in MLS Ozzie Alonso is the top holding mid in the league
The Defense

Kyle Beckerman is so much more than captain of Real Salt Lake. He’s so much more than RSL’s on-field soul; so much more than the Claret-and-Cobalt’s bleeding heart.

Beckerman’s the best holding midfielder in Major League Soccer, too.

With all due respect to Seattle Sounders FC defensive midfielder Osvaldo Alonso – a 2012 MLS Best XI selection and a fantastic player in his own right – Beckerman’s got the most sophisticated game of any holder in the league. His calmness on the ball, eagle-eyed vision and razor sharp passing set the tempo for RSL’s dynamic attack. Without him at the base of the diamond, things simply don’t run as smoothly for the Claret-and-Cobalt.

According to data compiled by Opta, Beckerman completed 1,730 passes in the 2012 MLS regular season, 200 more than Alonso. A whopping 122 of those completed passes came in RSL’s scoreless draw at Seattle on Oct. 17, 2012 – the highest single-game total in MLS last year.

Beckerman also outpaced Alonso in several other key categories in 2012, scoring four league goals to Alonso’s one, registering four assists to Alonso’s two and totaling 29 key passes to Alonso’s 22.

While those attacking numbers are nice, a holding midfielder isn’t worth much if he’s not a great defender. Thankfully for RSL, that’s exactly what Beckerman is. An expert at putting himself in the right spots at the right times, Beckerman is efficient with his movement, always positioning himself excellently in front of the back four to best break-up opposition attacks.

He can’t match Alonso’s defensive numbers on an absolute level, but that’s as much of a product of RSL’s and Seattle’s systems as anything else. For better or for worse, Sounders FC doesn’t do as much team defending as RSL, playing at times with three attack-minded midfielders and leaving Alonso to do most of the cleaning up. That’s not the case with Jason Kreis’ side, which demands high-pressure defending from all of its players, most of whom register good defensive numbers.

Most important, however, is Beckerman’s record on the field. Seattle and RSL have both excelled in the regular season since Sounders FC joined MLS in 2009, but – unlike Alonso – Beckerman has put the Claret-and-Cobalt on his back when it matters most, leading the team to the 2009 MLS Cup Championship and the 2011 CONCACAF Champions League Final. Alonso’s Open Cups are great, but – in my book – they don’t mean as much as the trophies on Beckerman’s mantle. 

In arguing Osvaldo Alonso as the best holding midfielder in MLS, there are many descriptors beyond his MLS Best XI honor from 2012.

He is a disrupter.   A ceaseless embodiment of tenacity.  And the heartbeat of the Sounders FC.

But still, it takes more than that to rank him higher in the pecking order than a player like Kyle Beckerman, who has been successful in MLS and among the best at his position for several years.

To display that, let’s take a look at some statistics from the still young 2013 season.  The statistics compiled by OPTA provide a much better window into the value of players in positions of the nature of a holding midfielder much more readily than what was previously available.  The defensive measures of Tackles, Clearances, Interceptions and Possession Gained are four statistics to gauge defensive performance, while the Passing percentage is a solid indicator of how well a player can maintain possession once he gains it for his team.

In three games this year, Beckerman – who is at an elite level in MLS – has five tackles, seven clearances, ten interceptions and has gained possession for RSL 26 times.  Those are all fantastic measures of what Beckerman does in front of the defense for Salt Lake and he also completes 83.2 percent of his passes, linking very well with the attacking players employed by coach Jason Kreis.

In one match against the Portland Timbers, Alonso nearly matched all of those figures.  Five tackles, six clearances and ten interceptions are all highly impactful defensive statistics, but it was the 23 times that he gained possession for the Sounders that separates him from the rest at his position.

For the season, including two Champions League matches against Tigres, Alonso averages 4.5 tackles, 3 clearances and 5.75 interceptions while gaining possession 13.5 times and completing 86.5 percent of his passes.

Perhaps more important though, is that the Sounders FC’s record in his time with the team is the second best in all of Major League Soccer, behind just the LA Galaxy, and no team has more silverware than the Sounders FC with their three US Open Cup titles.

It’s no wonder the fans in Seattle refer to him as the Honey Badger.

Who do you got: Beckerman or Alonso? Let us know in the comments section below.