NOTE: This is a feature in August’s edition of Sounders Monthly. Click here to read the full edition. It is be available free-of-charge at The NINETY, GuestLink Services locations, Soccer Celebration and Membership Central. You can also access it on the Sounders Mobile App.
Chad Marshall’s introduction to Major League Soccer was one as a wide-eyed 19-year-old with spiked hair and a Columbus Crew scarf draped over his towering 6-foot-4 frame of which he had yet to fill out. The Crew selected Marshall out of Stanford with the No. 2 pick in the 2004 MLS SuperDraft, one behind teen phenom Freddy Adu and six ahead of future Seattle Sounders teammate and United States national team legend Clint Dempsey.
Marshall was as decorated a domestic player entering MLS as anyone had ever been. He was a two-time Parade Magazine All-American, an NSCAA All-American as a senior and was Soccer America’s No. 1 recruit out of Rubidoux High School in Riverside, Calif. He was a member of the United States’ U-20 and U-17 teams, as well as the U-17 World Cup side, and led his Irvine Strikers club to four state championships before earning a scholarship to compete with the Cardinal.
In his freshman season in Palo Alto, Marshall started 20 of 21 matches and earned Second-Team All-Pac-12 honors. The Soccer America NCAA Freshman of the Year, Marshall twice scored game-winning goals in the NCAA tournament — against Dempsey’s Furman in the third round and Creighton in the NCAA College Cup semifinals — en route to being named to the All-Tournament team.
Now in the midst of his 14th MLS season, Marshall has surpassed 400 appearances in all competitions and solidified his ranking as one the best center backs the United States has ever produced.
“The thing about him is he hasn’t changed,” said Brad Evans. He spent the 2007 and ’08 seasons as Marshall’s teammate in Columbus before Marshall rejoined Evans in Seattle in 2014. “He’s been consistent since day one. That’s how you consistently get awards and that’s how you consistently win. He’s done the same thing throughout his entire career and that’s what makes him such a special player.”
Added Sounders Head Coach Brian Schmetzer: “Do you know what I get [with Marshall on the field]? And this is what I love as a coach. I get consistency…Chad’s consistency to be at that level, a high level, for that long, is his [best] quality. When I put him on the field, I know exactly what I’m going to get. That’s reassuring.”
Marshall is a bona fide defensive prototype. He’s physically imposing, is strong and technical in the air, is solid with the ball at his feet, can read the game well and has innately smart positioning. In his first year in Columbus, he made 27 starts and anchored a back line alongside MLS Defender of the Year Robin Fraser. The Crew finished the season on an 18-game unbeaten streak to secure the Supporters’ Shield and Marshall was a finalist for MLS Rookie of the Year behind the winner Dempsey.
Marshall was named MLS Defender of the Year himself just four years later in the first of back-to-back honors. He and Evans led Columbus to its first and only MLS Cup in 2008, and Marshall scored the eventual game-winner on a header in the 53rd minute in a 3-1 win over the New York Red Bulls.
Marshall is a four-time MLS All-Star, a three-time MLS Best XI member and earned his third Defender of the Year nod in 2014 in his first year in Seattle. He is still the only player in MLS history to have won it three times.
“When you talk about center backs who have scored goals, who have played in the amount of games that he has, who have won Supporters’ Shield, Defender of the Year, All-Star Games, MLS Cups, there’s nobody who comes close,” said Evans. “I don’t think there’s anybody who even touches him.”
The Sounders acquired Marshall following the 2013 season in exchange for allocation money and a 2015 third-round MLS SuperDraft Pick. Marshall rejoined Evans and former Crew head coach Sigi Schmid as well as the recently acquired Dempsey from Tottenham Hotspur. Marshall had always been a fan of the Sounders’ atmosphere — he wanted to play in an environment with 50,000 people — and said it was hard not to notice what was budding in Seattle.
He started 31 games in 2014 and helped the Sounders earn the Supporters’ Shield before tying his career high with four goals in 2016 and leading a stingy back line to the franchise’s first MLS Cup.
Given all his club success, it’s understandably baffling why Marshall has only 12 U.S. caps. He went seven years without a call-up between 2010 and this past January when Bruce Arena, who first called in Marshall in 2005 during Arena’s initial stint with the USMNT, selected Marshall for a January camp. Unlike other U.S. defenders who plied their trade abroad, Marshall, despite several offers from European clubs, opted to stay in MLS, perhaps to his detriment on the international stage.
“If Chad would have played abroad anywhere else in the world, he would have been a national-team mainstay because of that [MLS] stigma,” said ESPN analyst and former United States and Sounders forward Herculez Gomez last fall. “When it’s all said and done, they’re going to name it the ‘Chad Marshall Defender of the Year Award.’ That’s how good he’s been in this league.”
Said Evans who himself has 27 U.S. caps: “He’ll always be underrated because he stayed in MLS. There are some coaches that the requirement was to play abroad and test yourself to be really involved in the national team, and I think there were center backs who were called in that weren’t as good as Chad, but sometimes coaches want to see a player step outside his comfort zone.”
Marshall looks at it differently. He didn’t feel like the offers he had abroad were the right fit for him at the time and is proud of the role he’s played in helping develop MLS on a global level.
“When I came into the league, there were only 10 teams,” Marshall said. “It’s cool to be a part of that and to watch it grow, and I’ll still take pride in that long after I’m done playing.”
Marshall refuses to acknowledge any of his accomplishments or his illustrious career. He doesn’t think it means much coming from him and would rather let other people talk about what’s he done and his nearly incomparable MLS legacy.
“I’ll let them decide that,” Marshall said. “If they’re including me in that conversation, then I must have done some good things.
“I would hope the fans appreciate that I gave it my all every time that I was out there,” he continued. “I would hope coaches felt that I made their team better, and I would hope that teammates I’ve had enjoyed playing with me and thought that I played for them and gave my all for them. That’s all I really care about. All the other stuff is just extra.”