When the Rapids lost Drew Moor to free agency in the offseason, it opened a pretty big chasm at center back for the club. Although Moor had spent a significant amount of time playing right back, it was either 1) an experiment to see if his skills at distribution could be better paired alongside or overlapping with Vicente Sanchez, or 2) out of necessity, since James Riley wasn't effective and Marlon Hairston wasn't ready. Nonetheless, the best defender the Rapids had the past few years was Drew Moor. This is not really in question.
The Rapids began the season with a few different options at center back. Here they are in a Squawka comparison matrix, with a few key statistics to differentiate them:
First thing is a disclaimer: defensive statistics are notoriously poor at describing things. Think throwball- if Charles Woodson has a down year in tackles, is that because he wasn't as effective? Or because teams aren't throwing to his side because he's so effective? In soccer, the same challenge exists: if a player is well marked, perhaps the pass never comes in to be intercepted or tackled away. If a player makes a mistake, as Watts did at one point on Sunday, and scrambles to make a risky emergency tackle, the stats will tell you that they made a tackle.
The stats might not tell you that that tackle came as the result of a mistake the player made themselves.
An additional disclaimer- some of the numbers above come from when Jared Watts was playing defensive midfield last year. Players have different roles to play at different positions, so his numbers may need to be taken with a grain of salt.
The Rapids have (at least) four current options at center back: Axel Sjoberg, Sean St Ledger, Jared Watts and Bobby Burling. Each has strengths. Axel wins aerials and clears well. St Ledger is your best passer out of the back, and also has the vision to pick off incoming balls. Watts is best at winning the ball at the feet of the attacker, intercepting balls, and is a reliable passer as well. Burling does a little of everything, but is especially good at something the numbers don't show: muscling guys off the ball.
Each has weaknesses. Sjoberg isn't speedy in the open field, and doesn't earn many tackles. St Ledger is the weakest at clearing. Watts has a propensity to make mistakes that others need to clean up. Burling draws cards like he's playing ‘Go Fish'. He's also ‘average' at a lot of things, but hard to say that he's ‘great' at anything, except being physical.
It's hard to figure out your best two back here. It's a bit moot right now, since St Ledger is probably still coming back from injury.
Still. Who is your best pair? Maybe you want to deny crosses into the box and the abilities of a meaty target forward - so you go with Burling and Sjoberg. Maybe you need distribution and closing speed plus an experienced hand to marshall the entire line, so you go Watts and St Ledger. Maybe you want to grow your young players through more on field experience, so it's Watts with Sjoberg. Maybe you need an ‘aerial' guy and a ‘ground' guy, so it's Sjoberg with Watts. Maybe you want players who've seen all the tricks of experienced strikers, and won't be fooled, so you put on St Ledger and Burling. It's clear Pablo hasn't anointed any of these guys a sure week-in, week-out starter yet.
Here's some folks I like and their opinions:
@rapidsrabbi Given who is fit? Sledge (if fit) and Axel. I need experience in my pairing. I'd rather have Sjoberg than Watts.— Mr. Whitesides (@ProtectYourNet) March 9, 2016
@rapidsrabbi I'm fine leaving Watts at CB, especially once he has Cronin and Jermaine in front of him and doesn't roam as far afield.— @CapTied96 (@CapTied96) March 9, 2016
And then you add Jermaine Jones to the mix. Is Jermaine in line to be a center back? I don't think so, but that didn't stop Jurgen Klinsmann and the USMNT from trying it for a match in October 2014 against Honduras.
I think Jones is a defensive midfielder. But if Klinsmann calls and asks for a favor, who knows? Maybe Pablo wants to move Powers back alongside Cronin once Pappa is ready to go 90, and needs JJ to command the backline.
Jones might also cause another ripple: if JJ and Powers are your d-mids, then Cronin suddenly looks like a tasty option as a CB, albeit one that isn't super tall. But who the hell needs height when Axel Sjoberg is standing next to you? Or maybe you move Azira back. His instincts and clogging up traffic lanes and denying his man are clear. Maybe he finds new life as a center back.
Whatever the case may be, Jermaine Jones comes in and changes the chemistry and the roles of the players around him, hopefully for the better.
So, who would be your ideal center back pairing? Take the poll, but tell me why down below...