Just as many things in life, history is starting to repeat in the USL Championship’s center back ranks.
Where once the All-League honors lists were regularly populated by the likes of Orlando City SC’s Rob Valentino or the Richmond Kickers’ William Yomby and others, now there’s a new pecking order of established central defenders that has begun to monopolize the end-of-season award lists.
That’s reflected in our selections for the Top Five center backs in the league going into the 2021 Championship season, where players who are also succeeding at the international level are joined by those who’ve made a serious impact in recent years in the Championship.
Professional Seasons: 8
2020 Key Stats: 15 GP, 151 Recoveries, 84.6 Tackle Success Rate, 78.2 Passing Accuracy Rate
During his first three seasons in the Championship with the Charleston Battery, Neveal Hackshaw emerged as one of the most intriguing young defenders in the league, making 33 appearances as Charleston finished in the top four of the Eastern Conference in 2018. Over the past two seasons with Indy Eleven, the Trinidad & Tobago international has fully come into his own, earning back-to-back Championship All-League selections through his dynamic play.
Hackshaw’s game has in some ways married perfectly with Indy Head Coach Martin Rennie’s system, in which as a natural left-footed player he mans the left side of the defensive back three for the side. The 25-year-old is a difficult player to beat – he’s conceded on average less that one foul per game (72 fouls in 94 appearances) and has only been beaten off the dribble 44 times in the past four seasons while winning 70.6 percent of his contested tackles.
What adds a notable element to Hackshaw’s game, however, is his ability to read the game and take advantage of space when it’s offered to push into the opposing half. In addition to leading all defenders with 714 recoveries in the past four regular seasons, Hackshaw has also recorded 47 Key Passes and four assists. That ability makes Hackshaw not only one of the best defenders in the league, but one of the most entertaining to watch as well.
Leland Archer, Charleston Battery – There’s a method behind the way Charleston Head Coach Mike Anhaeuser brings players along, which meant Leland Archer’s first two seasons only saw him make 31 appearances for the Battery. As it proved with Forrest Lasso – who made 32 appearances in his first two seasons in Charleston – the third year was the breakout for the Trinidad & Tobago international. Playing every game of the season, Archer earned his first All-League selection in 2020, and will be aiming for more success this campaign.