Let’s say this up front: Chad Marshall was the best defender in Major League Soccer history.
Marshall, who announced his retirement on Wednesday, made the MLS Best XI four times (second-most for a defender) over an 11-year span. He’s the only player to win Defender of the Year three times, and if we’re being honest, he probably got screwed by the LeBron effect – Marshall could have a few more if voters didn’t feel like giving it to someone new.
He won four Supporters’ Shields, two MLS Cups and a Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup. He made at least 24 starts in 12 of his 15 full seasons. His longevity of greatness was remarkable.
Within any of those seasons, he might have also had the highest peak of any defender in league history. Marshall could run with any pacey attacker, win headers over any target striker and pass like a deep-lying playmaker. He could defend high on the field; he could defend deep on his own box; he could defend isolated on the sideline. He could probably defend Hogwarts better than Dumbledore ever did.
Marshall has been the bar for every center back in the league to try to reach since he entered the league in 2004 (Marshall was selected No. 2 overall in the 2004 SuperDraft out of Stanford. Can you name the player the selected ahead of him? Answer: Freddy Adu!). Every new center back breaking through, from Geoff Cameron to Omar Gonzalez to Matt Hedges to Aaron Long, has been given the Chad Marshall test: He’s good, but is he as good as Marshall?
If there’s any knock on Marshall’s career, it’s that he probably had even more to offer. He never left his mark with the US men’s national team, finishing his career with just 12 caps. He only played a significant role in one tournament – the 2009 Gold Cup, in which he garnered all-tournament honors. Some felt Marshall didn’t exude the same outward grit and desire of other players. His fitness was questioned at times. To provide an editorial opinion: It seemed Marshall was too good for his own good.
Marshall will go down as one of the biggest “what might have been” questions in USMNT history. His influence in MLS, well…
You could argue there were better defenders in their primes. Eddie Pope, Carlos Bocanegra, Jeff Agoos, Robin Fraser, Lubos Kubik, Ryan Nelsen and Jamison Olave would be in the conversation.
You could point out that other defenders were similarly consistent over a span of years. Bobby Boswell, Michael Parkhurst, Jimmy Conrad and Todd Dunivant come to mind. You can’t find a defender in MLS history, though, who was as great for as long as Chad Marshall.
For 15-plus years, Marshall chased down attackers. Now that he’s done playing, he’ll be the one getting chased.