Yesterday’s discussion over who was the top Rowdies keeper of the decade (which you can read here) was a fairly straightforward one. Today things get a little thornier as we try to decide which defenders will earn a spot on our All-Decade XI list. Some of us were assured in our picks, others found the task a little tougher.
Darnell King, Neill Collins, Tamika Mkandawire, Ben Sweat: Do the center backs really need to be explained? Darnel King’s pace and willingness to go forward made teams account for his presence on a weekly basis. Ben Sweat’s revitalized MLS career with NYCFC & his USMNT call-up didn’t happen while he was a Rowdie, but it also doesn’t happen without the work he put in here.
Darnell King, Neill Collins, Tamika Mkandawire, Marcel Schäfer: Being an excellent defender, an adeptness at going forward, and overall consistency get Darnell King in at right back for me. Tam’s longevity and leadership earn him the spot along side Neill Collins, who was an absolute rock, a savage personality, and would arguably still be a starting center back if not for the fact that he retired to take over as head coach. Despite not spending much time at left back, I put Marcel Schäfer there because it’s his natural position, he scored some undeniable bangers, and provided excellent leadership.
Darnell King, Frankie Sanfilippo, Pape Diakité, Ben Sweat: In defense the outside positions are the easiest, I think. Considering injuries throughout the years to that position, I’m fairly certain that Ben Sweat and Darnell King rise to the top at left and right back respectively. Sweat eventually earned a cap with the U.S. national team, while King continues to perform well in lower division soccer. Their pace was dominant in this team and they were the cornerstone of how the Rowdies dominated teams. The central defender position with the club has a litany of choices that all appeal to the heart. Frankie Sanfillipo was a club captain and served with distinction for more than 100 matches. Papé Diakité ran a one man show during the best run of results in the whole decade. This all puts them over the top as my central duo.
Darnell King, Frankie Sanfilippo, Neill Collins, Marcel Schafer: This was the toughest area of the field to whittle down. Maybe it’s because I feel the strongest connection to players who suited up on the back line. My connection is so strong I may have cheated a bit to get an extra guy on the list (more on that tomorrow).
Darnell King was the easiest choice since no one has done the job at right back as consistently and with as much flair as the Tampa native. Maybe some will say putting Marcel Schäfer in at left back is a cheat. I don’t care. He played enough at left back to qualify, in my opinion. More importantly, the guy was class all the way, on and off the field. As happy as I am for Ben Sweat’s rejuvenated career in MLS, that happened after his time in Tampa Bay. He never lived up to his potential (not 100% his fault) with the Rowdies. Ultimately my heart and my head say I will remember Schäfer’s time with the Rowdies first over anyone else at the position.
Choosing two center backs is brutal, as I have deep admiration for several players who have anchored the defensive line over the years. Perhaps I’m letting the experience of watching him do such a commendable job in taking over as coach bleed into the discussion, but I have to have Neill Collins on my list. I’m not sure I’ve seen anyone display the determination and ferocity to win the way Collins did. I want that, especially in defense. To pair with Collins I have Frankie Sanfilippo. No one wore the captain’s armband as many times as Sanfilippo. It’s unfortunate the way he faded from the Rowdies during some coaching turnover, but none of that can erase the fact that he was one of the first to anchor the defense and set the example for others to reach after him.
How did we do? Who did we leave off? Let us know. Tomorrow we dive into selecting our midfielders. Should be an interesting one.