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United States Men's National Team: Ranking the Top Five Center Backs

United States Men's National Team head coach Gregg Berhalter has used plenty of different center back partnerships in his tenure leading the team, so we're going to clear things up and rank the best ones.

Walker Zimmerman and Tim Ream have been the most used center backs under Berhalter with 33 and 30 appearances respectively, but due to the coach's constantly changing preferences at the position, it's hard to tell who the best American defenders really are.

A total of 10 players who play center back at least part-time have at least seven appearances for the USMNT under Berhalter, and seven of those players have received double-digit caps from the coach. Berhalter has coached a total of 70 USMNT matches since he took the job in 2018.

For our evaluation, we'll be taking into account the typical defensive stats - tackles, interceptions, clearances, blocks, ball recoveries and aerial duels - as well as looking at players' passing stats, set piece threat factor, and other metrics that give an indication of how someone impacts their team.

All key stats are from the 2023/24 season (2024 season if MLS) and are broken down into per-90 minute rates unless otherwise noted.

5. Miles Robinson

Club: FC Cincinnati (MLS - United States)
Key Stats: 1.2 tackles won, 1.1 interceptions, 3.9 ball recoveries, 3.7 clearances, 64.5 percent aerial duels won, 0.5 blocked shots, 86.4 pass accuracy, 7.5 long passes attempted, +0.29 plus/minus, +0.20 xG plus/minus

Miles Robinson beat out Mark McKenzie and Tim Ream for the fifth spot on this list thanks to his steady presence, athleticism, passing range and ability to win the ball.

The 27 year old is a rare center back who wins more tackles per game than interceptions made, meaning he's not afraid to go one-on-one with an attacker. That can be a detriment to the team's shape as he's more likely to move out of position, but it works for his club because it plays three center backs at a time.

He moved from a back-four system at Atlanta United to a team that uses a back-three system in Cincy which might concern Berhalter, but the coach has used three CBs against teams that use two strikers. Plus, Robinson has proven time and time again that he has enough athleticism to thrive with just one CB next to him.

4. Walker Zimmerman

Club: Nashville SC (MLS - United States)
Key Stats: 5.4 clearances, 2.1 interceptions, 3.8 ball recoveries, 0.4 blocked shots, +0.44 plus/minus, +0.79 xG plus/minus, 66.7 percent aerial duels won

Walker Zimmerman is one of the most experienced center backs in the USMNT player pool, he's hard to stop in the air, and he makes a tangible difference to his entire club team when he's playing. He missed seven games to start the 2024 season and Nashville SC's coach got fired due to poor results.

Nashville has three wins, three draws and one loss in games Zimmerman has started in 2024. The team has four wins, seven draws and five losses overall.

A quiet leader at the back who is a constant threat to head in set pieces, Zimmerman was a perfect over-age call up into the preliminary Olympics squad. The senior squad might miss him in the Copa America, though.

3. Aaron Long

Club: Los Angeles FC (MLS - United States)
Key Stats: 4.9 clearances, 4.7 ball recoveries, 1.2 interceptions, 83.3 percent aerial duels won, 1.3 blocked shots, 88.6 percent pass accuracy, +0.76 plus/minus, +0.99 xG plus/minus

Aaron Long has returned to his best since going down with an Achilles injury in 2020, and with him playing for perennial contenders LAFC, he has a great shot at glory. His stats jump off the page, especially the fact that LAFC creates many more chances than their opponents each game when he's on the pitch.

Long is also a force in the air. He has won a league-leading 83.3 percent of headers contested this season, and for his career, that mark is at a still-impressive mark of 67.6 percent.

The fact Long completes more than four ball recoveries and more than four clearances per 90 minutes shows how good he is at finding the ball. He completes over 93 percent of his short and medium pass attempts, so he can thrive in Berhalter's system where defenders have to move the ball forward.

2. Cameron Carter-Vickers

Club: Celtic FC (Premiership - Scotland)
Key Stats: 91.2 percent pass accuracy, 3.9 clearances, 0.7 interceptions, 0.5 blocked shots, 6.5 ball recoveries, 70.6 percent aerial duels won

Cameron Carter-Vickers has won three Scottish Premiership titles at Celtic in three years. Sure, that's to be expected at one of Scotland's two historic powerhouse clubs, but CCV has earned his spot there. In 2023/24, he was one of the league's most accurate passers and one of the best headers of the ball.

CCV's passing and aerial ability are his best attributes, which makes sense considering he plays for a Celtic team that dominates possession. He doesn't have to defend for long stretches, but he wins 70 percent of his tackles, 68.1 percent of total duels, and 70.6 percent of aerial duels, so he's up to the task of defending when required.

That means he suits Berhalter's possession-heavy system. The question is, ahead of the 2024 Copa America, whether he'll be able to stick with top-level talents like Lionel Messi, Vinicius Junior, Rodrygo, Julian Alvarez, Darwin Nunez, Luis Diaz and more.

1. Chris Richards

Club: Crystal Palace (Premier League - England)
Key Stats: 4.6 clearances, 1.2 interceptions, 1.2 tackles won, 3.8 ball recoveries, 58.5 percent aerial duels won, 83.3 percent pass accuracy, +0.21 plus/minus, -0.06 xG plus/minus

Chris Richards earns the distinction of leading this list as the best USMNT central defender. Richards worked his way into the starting XI of a Premier League team that punched above its weight this season.

Even though his best work at Crystal Palace this season was part of a back three, his ability to use both feet and experience playing in midfield in the Premier League give him a boost. His expected goals plus/minus falls short of breaking even, but that's a result of his team playing in the world's toughest league.

Richards is 24 and has just 4,789 minutes of senior-level professional soccer under his belt, but he made a leap forward in 2023/24. Palace went undefeated its last eight games of the season with just six goals conceded and three clean sheets, and Richards started each game at center back.

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