Leaders can emerge from any position within a team’s line-up, but defenders can often set the tone for a match. New York Red Bulls have seen many talented individuals contribute at the defensive end, and several have had a significant impact on success.

After our countdown that focused on goalkeepers, we wanted to take a look back at the franchise’s all-time best defenders.

New York Red Bulls: Top five defenders in club history

It can always be tough when comparing central defenders with full-backs throughout the years, but this list will have an emphasis on those who accomplished the most with the team.

Kevin Goldthwaite was New York’s Defender of the Year for 2008, as his work at the back helped to spark the squad’s unlikely run to the MLS Cup final that year. He was part of a defensive unit that only allowed one goal through three playoff matches prior to that final in Los Angeles.

Probably best remembered for some of his head-scratching mistakes and free-kicks that have yet to land, Roy Miller played in 140 games and captured two Supporters’ Shield titles with the Red Bulls (2013 & 2015).

After working his way through the academy and putting in a fantastic 2015 season, Matt Miazga moved to the English Premier League with Chelsea in January of 2016. At only 23 years of age, the future is very bright for the New Jersey native.

When examining the case of Rafa Marquez, there are examples where big names do not always produce as expected. For Marquez, two rocky years at Red Bull Arena eventually ended with the player and club terminating his contract early.

A World Cup winner in 1994 with Brazil, Branco spent one disastrous campaign with the Metrostars in 1997 that ultimately yielded 13 matches and two goals. A star with the United States at the same World Cup tournament, Alexi Lalas would play one season for the club in 1998 before being traded the following year to Kansas City. He would return as General Manager in 2005, during the club’s takeover and name change.

The Red Bulls continue on today with the promising center-back pairing of Aaron Long and Tim Parker, as well as the excellent work of Kemar Lawrence at left-back.

Now, I offer up my ranking of the five all-time best defenders in New York Red Bulls history.

5) Rhett Harty (1996-1998)

Nicknamed “Mr. Clean” for his recognizable bald head, Rhett Harty was a key part of the back-line for the Metrostars right from the beginning. Originally drafted by San Jose, he was involved in the first trade in MLS history that sent him from California to Giants Stadium.

He went on to make 70 appearances across all competitions for the club, and was the team’s Defender of the Year for the 1997 campaign. He would retire from the professional game in 1999, after both injuries and lawsuits against the league took their toll.

Never one to hold his tongue or back down from a challenge, Harty will always remain a fan favorite from the early days of the Metrostars.

4) Tim Ream (2010-2011)

A second-round pick in the 2010 MLS SuperDraft, it is difficult to describe Tim Ream’s rise as anything other than meteoric during his time with the Red Bulls. Voted as Defender of the Year in his rookie season, his contributions would help get New York back into the MLS Cup Playoffs after a disappointing 2009 campaign.

Another excellent run in 2011 led to USMNT call-ups and attention from overseas, with Ream eventually signing with Bolton Wanderers in January of 2012.

3) Eddie Pope (2003-2004)

A member of the National Soccer Hall of Fame, Eddie Pope achieved tremendous success throughout his career in MLS and with the USMNT. While his best days may not have been with the Metrostars, he was an important element to success for the team during his two seasons.

Pope was named to the MLS Best XI for both 2003 and 2004. He would be traded to Real Salt Lake the following year.

2) Steve Jolley (2000-2003, 2006)

A critical component for the Metrostars’ promising 2000 campaign that saw them reach the Eastern Conference final, Steve Jolley was a reliable presence for the back-line. In the top ten all-time for appearances with 147, Jolley’s ability to read the opponent’s attack was superb for New York.

After a spell with FC Dallas, he would return for one more season with the club in 2006.

1) Mike Petke (1998-2002, 2009-2010)

The heart and soul of the Metrostars defense and the first manager to capture silverware for New York, Mike Petke will always be a club legend.

Behind only Dax McCarty and Luis Robles in appearances with 197, the three-time MLS All-Star embodied the fighting spirit of his sides. Petke was named the club’s Defensive Player of the Year in 2009 during his second stint with the club.

Photo by Bill Twomey Photography

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