TUKWILA, Wash. – One of the Seattle Sounders’ main goals this past offseason was fixing a defense that had slumped badly, allowing 20 goals over their final 10 matches of 2013.
Just three matches into 2014, the results are quite encouraging. The Sounders have already registered a pair of shutouts and have allowed just two goals. A year ago, they hadn’t registered their first clean sheet until the season’s fifth match.
“We worked hard during the preseason, and you need to give credit to the new players,” said Sounders center back Djimi Traoré, one of the few holdovers. “They came here and ended up very well.”
The biggest of those additions – both literally and figuratively – was Chad Marshall. The former two-time Defender of the Year was acquired in an offseason trade, ending a 10-year run with the Columbus Crew, who the Sounders happen to be playing on Saturday (10 pm ET; MLS Free Stream of the Week).
Despite not having much chance to train together during the preseason, Marshall and Traore have already formed a solid partnership.
“I think it’s been good,” Marshall said. “From the very beginning, we had a pretty good understanding of each other, what each other likes to do in certain situations. We talk a lot on and off the field to get through stuff and figure out certain situations that have come up in video, so I think we have a good relationship.
“You’re a little worried coming in, but even that game it was surprisingly pretty easy. Talking to guys, they’ve been very receptive and willing to listen.”
It has helped that Marshall isn’t all talk. The towering center back has provided a physical presence the Sounders have long sought, playing so well that he’s even earned the moniker “Air Marshall.”
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“Chad is amazing,” Sounders full back DeAndre Yedlin said. “Honestly, he may be the best center back I’ve ever played with. It’s just a reassurance to know if the ball is in the air, we’re not going to lose it. The second ball is maybe a little bit tougher, but he wins every ball in the air. He covers me when I go up. He organizes. He has a great, great passion for the game. He’s been absolutely amazing for us.”
Although it’s likely too late for Marshall to get back into the US national team ahead of the summer’s World Cup, he’s again playing at that kind of level, Sounders head coach Sigi Schmid said.
“He’s a center back who’s been overlooked,” Schmid said. “I think his quality is comparable to center backs who are in the national team pool right now. I think his quality is better than some guys who have been called in [some] circumstances.”