Greenville’s Right Back Conundrum

The departure of Abdi Mohamed is a big loss coming into the 2022 season for the Triumph. I’ve written about this before, but the fullbacks were a huge part of Greenville’s system last season and Abdi played an important role both in getting the ball to the final 3rd/into the box and in defending in a stout Greenville Defense. You can read about that here. 

Abdi in this situation is the high and wide circle on the right side of the field. He often held width or rotated with wingers to create chances in the final third.

Abdi truly did it all from that Right-back role, sometimes filling out a back 3 in longer periods of possession and more often than not, interchanging with the winger along the last line of the opposition to create chances in the final third. While he was quite solid in possession, he was just as strong when defending that right side of the field. Abdi Mohamed even rescued points for Greenville on multiple occasions last season, most notably the last second headed clearance against Omaha to secure the 3 points. Free kicks and corners from the left side of the field were also important things that Abdi took care of ( Greenville pretty consistently used in-swinging corners and free kicks upon the introduction of Gavilanes to the squad regularly, but I’ll cover that another day) and that’s another area that has to be filled in the squad, though not necessarily by the incoming right back. 

I want to highlight four right-backs who could bolster the backline of the Triumph. One championship option, two proven league one players, and a quality MLS drafted player who needs a fresh start. Greenville still has 2-3 more international roster spots available, so I’ve included 2 Americans and 2 international players that could end up in the green and blue. Who can fill the shoes of the incredible Somali right back that will be lining up somewhere else this season? Let’s find out:

*I’m including links to highlight videos for each player rather than film on this site to give their Youtube pages a boost and more people can see the qualities of these players from the players’ perspectives!

Zachary Ellis-Hayden 

Photo Credit: Steve Christy

*highlights can be seen here*

Ellis-Hayden lined up for the now-defunct OKC Energy in the RB spot and logged about 1600 minutes for the Championship side in 2021. With the OKC Energy taking a break, you can bet that a lot of the players on their roster will be looking for new teams to ply their trade this season. The Canadian Right Back was quite good for a lackluster OKC Energy side this season, defending well, helping in the build-up, and creating chances. Combining strong runs, technical quality, and defensive intelligence, Ellis-Hayden would be a high-quality option to replace Mohamed on the right. 

Jonathan Ricketts

Credit: Jonathan Ricketts Youtube

Key Stats: 

Total Duels Won % – 61% (GREAT in the air)

Chances Created – 31

Dribbles completed % – 70%

Long Balls Completed % – 37%

*highlights can be seen here*

I don’t think I’ve kept it a secret,  but I think Jonathan Ricketts was one of the best fullbacks in USL League One last season. An incredibly strong and brave defender that somehow also has great attacking ability, I’d love to see Jonathan Ricketts stay in League One another year to bolster Greenville’s back-line. While he does have the ability to make good runs with the ball, his best quality is his ability to receive the ball in dangerous areas and get it into the box. A lot of this had to do with Chattanooga’s tactical setup, which you can read about here. Ricketts’s defensive strengths combined with his attacking prowess make him a perfect candidate for the role in Greenville. While he’s likely to be pursuing a move to the Championship, he’d be very welcome in the Upstate of South Carolina!

Noah Franke

Photo Credit: USL

Key Stats: 

Total Duels Won % – 54%

Chances Created – 25

Dribbles completed % – 70%

Long Balls Completed % – 36%

*highlights can be seen here*

Noah Franke had a solid season at FC Tucson last year after a spell with the Riverhounds in the USL Championship. Noah was a slightly different type of fullback, much more attacking in nature with an incredible dribbling ability to take on opponents. Much more content with 1-2 pass combinations, he’s really good in close quarters and good at getting the ball into the box. His strengths lie in his attacking prowess rather than his defensive capabilities, even though he IS a capable defender. The one downside is that his roles within the teams he’s played in don’t seem to jive with the long passes and longer defensive periods that are typically associated with Greenville. Even so, I’ve included him here because I think he has a lot to offer going forward, which Greenville also typically utilizes in that role quite often. I’d say he’s the least likely option of the four being mentioned just because of his profile, but he’s a high quality player regardless and I’d love to see him at Legacy. *Update: LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, WE GOT HIM

Noah Billingsley

Photo Credit: MLS

*Not enough data for him from last season, finding it hard to break into a set in stone PHX Rising squad while on loan there. Key stats will be from 2020 during a 9 game stint at LV Lights.*

Key Stats: 

Total Duels Won % – 57%

Chances Created – 2 (did not venture forward very often in this setup)

Dribbles completed % – 38%

Long Balls Completed % – 30%

*highlights can be seen here*

You’d be forgiven for not knowing this name, but Billingsley is a high-quality right back that could use a fresh start. Hailing from New Zealand, Billingsley was selected 18th overall in the  2020 MLS SuperDraft by Minnesota after a great collegiate career at UC Santa Barbara. Loaned out by Minnesota to the USL Championship twice, the 24-year-old right-back is now out of a contract for the 2022 season and in need of somewhere to call home. Having started his career as a forward/winger, Billingsley has done well in his move to the right-back position over the past few years. He also has 3 caps to the New Zealand National Team under his belt.The 6’1 defender is strong in the air, good going forward, and positionally disciplined. There are some raw aspects of his game to work out, but I think he’d be a great fit for the Triumph both defensively and going forward. I have no idea what’s next for this guy, but a reboot for a year or two might be exactly what he needs to be the quality player everyone knows he can be.

I don’t have any special knowledge in terms of where these players are going, but I would LOVE to see any of these players put on the Green and Blue in 2022. If you know them, get to talking to them so that they can take up this vital role here in Greenville.

Bonus Players:

Jonathan Dean

Hey Dean, I see you haven’t committed to another season with the Birmingham Legion yet… Just know that even though you wouldn’t be any closer or farther from home, you’d be absolutely adored in Greenville. You balled out in the championship… don’t you think it’s time for a new challenge? I’m just out here trying to speak the impossible into existence, but you know where to find us if it’s working!

Toby Sims

Photo Credit: GVL FC

This one is SO serious. Toby Sims is a quality CB/RB that would make an outstanding addition to the Greenville backline. Dude’s won so many awards I don’t even have the time to list them all. The 2021 USL League Two defender of the year has plenty of experience playing here in SC and is absolute quality. He’s going to be quality and he’s available… so Triumph offices… you know what to do.

*Highlights Here*

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