Chad Marshall - Seattle - close up

Wiebe: Must-win for Seattle sans Chad Marshall? Four reasons to be worried

Back in August, Bobby Warshaw introduced the Chad Marshall Theorem on ExtraTime Radio. If you’re not already a listener, go ahead and subscribe here.

Now seems like a good time for a refresher given Marshall will not play in the make-or-break second leg of the Seattle Sounders’ Western Conference Semifinal series against the Portland Timbers (Thursday, 10:30 pm ET | FS1, FOX Deportes, TSN, TVAS) thanks to meniscus surgery.

I’ll let Bobby explain in his own words…

The Chad Marshall Theorem has two parts.

1) Center back is a position that lifts everyone else on your team. If you have a good player there, it opens up your options to do other things. You can’t press without a center back that can run; you can’t sit deep without a center back that’s commanding in the box; you can’t possess without a center back that can pass. So while that player is not obviously vital, they generally provide the base/floor for what you can do.

2) Center back is the weakest position in MLS right now, so it’s an opportunity for competitive advantage. If you don’t have a bad center back -- or even better, if you have an elite one -- you have a talent advantage. And because some teams have center backs that are so bad, it’s a bigger margin to gain.

That Bobby’s named his theorem after Chad Marshall tells you something about Marshall the individual and Marshall the teammate. The 34-year-old is arguably the best defender in MLS history, especially if the measurement is body and breadth of work. This, from Sam Stejskal, is a must-read on MLS’s more ardent naked cartwheeler.

I’ll add a little extra context, since the calendar reads November and the only one thing that matters – for the Sounders, or any other team still in it – is MLS Cup. Looking for a commonality for every champion in the past decade? All 10 had a commanding (in their own way), experienced, domestic center back.

So what’s that mean for Thursday and beyond? It means Seattle’s MLS Cup hopes rest on Roman Torres and Kim Kee-hee in the short term and, in the medium term, Marshall’s ability to recover in time for the Western Conference Championship.

I picked the Sounders to win MLS Cup, but I’m increasingly less confident in that choice right about now. Here’s why…

Road goals matter

Seattle have Raul Ruidiaz and Nico Lodeiro. They’ll create chances. They’ll probably score. That’s important and required for them to advance, as you can see from the handy results chart below.

What you can also see in that chart is that any goal by the Timbers negates the Sounders’ away goal and drastically reduces their chance of advancing. Should they concede, then they’ll have to score at least two to force overtime and three to win outright. They must win. A draw does no good. Seattle’s only truly straightforward result is a 1-0 win.

Portland were in a pretty good situation before Marshall’s surgery, and now they find themselves in an ideal situation, all things considered. The Sounders must venture forward, if not immediately then at some juncture of the game. That suits Giovanni Savarese just fine.

He’s got Larrys Mabiala back. He’s got Diego Chara. He’s got a defensive unit that has no problem staying organized and getting stuck in. He’s got, in Diego Valeri, Sebastian Blanco and the rapidly emerging Jeremy Ebobisse, a razor-sharp counterattack. He doesn’t have to worry about Marshall.

Under these circumstances, why can’t Portland go to Seattle and win another playoff game? They did it in in 2013, one of two wins at CenturyLink in 12 all-time meetings. Just so happens that was the year before Marshall arrived.

Kim Kee-hee and Roman Torres don’t have many reps

Kim and Torres will play a big role Thursday. | USA Today Images

Before Sunday, the last time Seattle’s second- and third-best center backs played together was Sept. 23 against the LA Galaxy at StubHub Center. The Sounders lost 3-0. Their only other experience together came in San Jose in July, a 1-0 win that came a big fat asterisk since the Earthquakes were, by far, the league’s worst team.

“That pairing hasn’t played a lot together,” head coach Brian Schmetzer said this week. “We’ll do what we can to get them in sync, but they’re two very talented players. Roman was waiting for his chance and here it is. He’ll be ready.”

Not many teams can lose their best center back and turn to a player with World Cup and playoff experience. I have no doubt the big Panamanian will be ready, and the pairing did keep Portland off the board on Sunday. But they did so with the Timbers already leading 2-1 and loathe to stretch themselves and potentially give up another away goal.

It’s an imperfect stat, but check the comparison for the Sounders with and without Marshall in the starting lineup the past three seasons.

Courtesy of Opta

In the results department, that’s striking, though if you’re like me you might be a little puzzled by the matching goals against averages. Perhaps that’s the Chad Marshall Theorem defined. Perhaps it's nothing. We'll see.

Set pieces, set pieces, set pieces

I’ll keep this simple.

Seattle need goals. Portland are going to sit back and clog the final third. This game could come down to set pieces, both attacking and defending. Marshall is the Sounders’ best set-piece defender and threat. Hell, he’s probably MLS’s best on both sides of the ball.

And he won’t play. Bobby talked about bigger margins to gain. In this case, it’s a bigger marginal loss. Case in point.

Cristian Roldan is questionable

Will Roldan feature vs. Timbers? | USA Today Images

As if one massive loss wasn’t enough, the Sounders are facing a must-win game without Cristian Roldan, whose status is in question following his own injury in the first leg.

Lodeiro and Ruidiaz are the stars, but Roldan is the midfield glue that connects it all. There might as well be a Cristian Roldan Theorem, too. His movement and passing create opportunities for everyone else, and he’s become an impact player on the defensive side, too. He'd missed seven minutes all season before Leg 1.

We know Marshall is out. If Roldan can’t go or is less than 100 percent, what then? The answer, I fear, isn’t one that Sounders fans will want to hear.

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