Marshall taking observer's view of U.S. team

Take one good look at Chad Marshall and, well, you've seen every look he has.

His expressions of bewilderment, sadness, jubilation, and amusement all seem to blend into one constant look of indifference. He's like the anti-Jim Carrey or, better yet, one of those beefeaters at Buckingham Palace whose stares can cut through glass.

Then again, that's what you want out of a center back. Especially one with Marshall's 6-foot-3, 190-pound frame. You'd rather have him act more like Ivan Drago with a quiet confidence than be anything that resembles "flighty" or "flaky."

"I'm a pretty low-key kind of guy," he says.

That's almost like saying that DaMarcus Beasley is "pretty fast" or that Dema Kovalenko is "pretty intense."

Marshall may be the youngest member of the current 24-player roster with the U.S. national team, but the 20-year-old defender hardly plays the part. When describing his first road trip with Bruce Arena's side, he sounds impressed at what he witnessed, yet hardly like the most inexperienced player on the squad.

"It was everything I expected it to be," says Marshall of Mexico City and the famed Estadio Azteca during the U.S. squad's training session at Legion Field in preparation for its match against Guatemala on Wednesday night. "The crowd was great, the game was great and the atmosphere was intense. It was good to experience it and see what it's all about."

The fact that Marshall was not on the 18-man roster for the 2-1 loss this past Sunday was not a surprise. In fact, it's par for the course. Getting his young players a "taste" of what World Cup qualifying is all about before he entrusts them to take the field with so much on the line is exactly how Arena has handled players such as Eddie Johnson, Eddie Gaven and Oguchi Onyewu since qualifying began last June.

It's a philosophy that has worked out pretty well. And it leads one to believe that Marshall will be the next young twenty-something to get a surprise start in one of the upcoming qualifiers now that he has two caps under his belt and knows what it is like to stand there and listen to 110,000 cheer against you in one of the world's largest stadiums.

"You have to see the level that these guys play at to be able to go out there and step onto the field with them," said Marshall, who knew he was making the trip to be a spectator and not a participant. "To go into a game like that with only a couple of caps and a few camps would have been too much."

Probably. But that's not saying that Marshall is too far off from contributing. In the meantime, he's been keeping his mouth shut and his eyes open, taking in everything from the veterans around him, whether it's in training or in the matches. Already, the former Stanford Cardinal standout has learned a few things from watching some of the European-based players like Carlos Bocanegra, Gregg Berhalter and Steve Cherundolo.

"I just notice their communication," he said. "They really do talk the entire time they are on the field. And that's something I have to do, and it's one of the things the coaches have told me I have to work on."

Having had his first chance to play alongside U.S. captain Claudio Reyna and some of the other veterans who he doesn't get a chance to play against in MLS, he noticed a difference from what he experienced on the club level as a rookie in 2004.

"The way these guys can play under pressure is amazing," he said. "In the tightest of situations, they find a way to play out of it. The speed of play is faster, but it's mostly how smart they are at this level than anything."

One of the reasons that so many different players -- more than 100 now under Arena -- have come into the team and have seemingly fit right in right away is due to the confidence level that exists across the board. No longer is there a huge difference between the Euro-based players and the MLS guys. And no longer is there as much of an inexperienced feel to these young players. Forget players like Beasley and Landon Donovan who are pillars of the team already with World Cup experience and Champions League matches under their belts already. Even the other guys in their early 20s like Marshall, Johnson, and Clint Dempsey have played in world championships with either the U-17s or the U-20s.

No matter where they've been, they've all experienced success. So the fearlessness and high level of confidence that exudes from these players rub off onto the new faces in camp, said Marshall.

"There's a confident feeling around this team, definitely," he said. "When you've had a winning streak or an unbeaten streak of 16 games, it's only going to build. We were confident going into the Mexico game, and I don't think we've lost anything coming out of that game. It's tough to win down there -- everyone knows that -- so the same feeling exists in camp this week."

The fact that Marshall got his chance at all isn't surprising considering Arena's M.O. It wasn't long after he received the job in the fall of 1998 that he said MLS players would get chances with the national team based on their performance week-in and week-out in the league. And after Marshall quickly established himself as one of the better defenders in the league during his rookie season for the Eastern Conference champions, it was only a matter of time that he got the call.

"I was pretty happy with the year I had with the Crew, and others like Clint Dempsey with the Revolution had good year, too, so it does show that Bruce is watching," he said. "He gets the players who do well into at least one camp to see what it's all about and get a chance to prove yourself. Then you get a chance to go back to your club and work on the things you know you now need to work on to play at that level."

For Marshall, who joked that he's only been with his teammates in Columbus for about 10 days this preseason that means acting more like a veteran this year by taking some increased ownership in the side.

"Hopefully I can take more of a leadership role out of the back this year," he said. "Robin Fraser did most of that last year and, obviously, I learned a lot from him, but I hope to be able to step up in that way this season."

Whether Marshall gets his first shot at playing in a World Cup qualifier on Wednesday night or if it comes in June against either Costa Rica or Panama, you know one thing: He won't be fazed.

And even if he is thrown off, in the slightest bit, you'll never be able to tell it from looking at him.

Marc Connolly writes for ESPN.com and several other publications. This column runs each Wednesday on MLSnet.com and Marc can be reached at marc@oakwoodsoccer.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.


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