The struggling San Jose Earthquakes made a big splash in the summer signing window with the acquisition of U.S. men's national team defender Clarence Goodson. The first selection of the Quakes in the 2007 MLS Expansion Draft, Goodson elected to sign instead with Norwegian club IK Start. However, due to the somewhat byzantine rules of MLS, San Jose retained his contract rights in perpetuity. It took 5 and half years, but after his lengthy European vacation, the center back has finally joined the Earthquakes.
Almost immediately, with the signing of Goodson and his likely partnering with Victor Bernardez, the Earthquakes boast one of the top center back pairs in all of MLS. Yes, they have yet to play a minute together, and probably won't until an August 4 match against Chivas USA, but their respective curriculum vitae seem to validate the claim. In fact, an argument can be made that Goodson and Bernardez represent the best defender duo in MLS.
A Project-40 signing in 2004 (the incentive program to sign college underclassmen and youth players is now called Generation Adidas), Goodson did well in his four years with FC Dallas. He spurned a further offer to sign with MLS and instead headed for Europe. Within a year, he was capped by the U.S. and by 2010 was a member of the FIFA World Cup roster. As recently as March 22 at Dick's Sporting Goods Park in Colorado, Goodson started for the national team in a 1-0 World Cup Qualifying victory against Costa Rica. The defender is currently part of the 23-man roster that will compete in this summer's CONCACAF Gold Cup.
Goodson's new partner in San Jose is no stranger to success on the international level. Bernardez, the anchor of the Honduran national team's defensive line, has been capped 68 times and is also a veteran of the 2010 World Cup. In only his first season with the Earthquakes, Bernardez was one of three defenders named to the 2012 MLS Best XI. A bruising center back and aerial master, Bernardez is equally adept with the ball at his feet. His arrival in San Jose last year helped propel the Quakes to the 2012 Supporters' Shield.
Bernardez and Goodson: a defensive force to be reckoned with and a partnership that certainly on paper has the potential to help turn San Jose's difficult 2013 season around. So back to that claim that they represent the best center back tandem in MLS: who are the other contenders for that title?
Since we can't go on résumés alone, the best defensive pair in MLS today patrols the back line at Sporting Park for the league's stingiest defense. Whereas Bernardez was one of only three defenders to hold MLS Best XI status, the other two wear the sky blue of Sporting KC: Matt Besler and Aurelien Collin. The former has essentially knocked Goodson from his place on the U.S. men's national team "A" squad and the latter has been a revelation since arriving in Kansas City in 2011. A true "sugar and spice" partnership, the two have propelled Sporting to two straight MLS regular season Eastern Conference first place finishes.
Approaching the SKC duo in terms of quality and reputation is the LA Galaxy pairing of Omar Gonzalez and A.J. DeLaGarza. Gonzalez, Besler's partner with the USMNT in the current World Cup Qualifying cycle, is a two-time MLS Best XI defender and a huge reason the Galaxy has captured two straight MLS Cup championships. DeLaGarza is the little to Gonzalez' large in the pairing, but he provides an athleticism that propels these two to the top end of the list. A partnership that began when both were college teammates at Maryland - Goodson's alma mater as well, coincidently - the two defenders have made the Galaxy defense the best in the Western Conference.
Two other center back pairing in MLS are certainly worth recognizing. For the Houston Dynamo, a team that prides itself in being highly organized defensively, Bobby Boswell and Jermaine Taylor continue to impress. Twice runners-up to the Galaxy for the MLS Cup, these two defenders anchor a squad that is giving up just a single goal per game this season. Just up the interstate from Houston resides another prominent pairing in Matt Hedges and George John at FC Dallas. Especially with John on the field, Dallas has been an immovable object at the top of the West in 2013 and still paces the conference in points per game.
Leaving the state of Texas, and heading north of the border to Italy - make that Canada - the Montreal Impact due of Alessandro Nesta and Matteo Ferrari captain the back line for the best team in MLS this season. A detour stateside through New England allows for a gander at the Revolution's impressive Jose Goncalves and Stephen McCarthy. Headed westward via the Great Lakes to the southeast of Chicago reveals a promising tandem with 2012 Rookie of the Year Austin Berry and former MLS Best XI defender Bakary Somare manning the back for a resurgent Fire squad. Finally, passing through the Rocky Mountains on the way back to the Bay Area, Real Salt Lake features veteran Nat Borchers and uninjured-defender-of-the-day-to-be-announced-come-game-time locking it down at Rio Tinto Stadium.
Clearly, until Goodson and Bernardez together get to show their stuff on the field for the Earthquakes, they will have to cede all presumptions of being the best duo in MLS to Besler and Collin. For that matter, Gonzalez and De La Garza are unlikely to yield their standing either as the Best in the West. August can't come soon enough for San Jose and the most enticing defensive partnership the club has even seen, and perhaps in 2013, the best MLS has seen as well.