If one were to look up MLS centerback in the dictionary they should find Chad Marshall. The Seattle Sounders have thrived with him there both in their up-tempo Supporters’ Shield winning season as well as the gritty 2017 MLS Cup. Marshall used his great 2017 to return to the United States National Team camp. At 32 he’s earned the nickname ‘Dad’ due to his paternal demeanor and the fact that he is a 13-year veteran of the league.
The ranking is based on several hundred Sounder at Heart readers’ votes. Realio rated every single MLS regular season and playoff game as well as the two CONCACAF Champions League matches. He did not rate USL or USOC play.
Chad Marshall 2016
In many ways Marshall has the same flaws and attributes that have defined American centerback stereotypes for decades. He is not a good passer. He tends to boot it rather than settle the ball. However, he is devastating on set-pieces, punishing defenses silly enough not to put their best defenders on him, and sometimes even those.
Marshall is also the stereotypical American defender when it comes to defense, except in its Platonic ideal. He reads the game with precision, stepping up with nearly mechanically-perfect timing. When defending on-ball he has nimble feet that poke the ball away from even the most skillful players in the league. Few forwards can body past him if he closes down the space available.
Off the ball he manages space well, though the faster players in the league can beat him. If he needs to split wide he still maintains the offside line. He commands the line as a second keeper. Chad’s set-play work is strong. He’s been used both as a floater defending the ball and to mark the best opponent. He succeeds in both roles.
If ever an epic poem was written about an American soccer defender it would be about Chad Marshall. It’s not that Chad’s defense is perfect. It’s just that perfect defense doesn’t exist.
Chad applies his bulk to slow the fast, young kids down. He will knock them down if necessary. He is not the slowest, nor lowest endurance Sounders, but he is probably close. Incredible vertical for such a large man.
2016 proved Chad Marshall just gets better with age. Marshall started off very rusty and, after a particularly rough preseason, struggled in the CCL matches against Club America to the tune of below-average 5.0 ratings in each contest. At the time, Seattle was breaking in a new left back, as well as trying to figure out the midfield in front of him, and the team looked unsettled. Any worry about Chad’s play was immediately assuaged in the first MLS match where he earned an 8 and quickly followed this up with two more 8’s in the next 10 matches. For the first half of the year Chad was a dual threat, scoring opportunistic goals and working fairly well with a patchwork defensive unit, saving the day repeatedly.
Chad continued to improve through the Sigi Schmid games, ending with a stellar 6.65 rating throughout his 17 matches for the ex-Sounder coach. Even with the team struggling around him, Marshall continued to produce good games in the defense. This was soon followed by even more improvement with the introduction of Brian Schmetzer and new backline partner Roman Torres. Absent almost any growing pains as a duo, Marshall improved his score in the next 13 appearances to a 6.77 average. The two giants in the back did well covering for each other, and quickly contributed to a string of positive results the thrust Seattle up the table.
Marshall wasn’t done improving, and turned in the most truly dominant playoff performance for a defender I’ve seen from a Sounder. He played all 6 games, averaging a massive 7.5 rating from me (3rd highest on the team) while being an integral part in a defense that only conceded an impressive three goals. He was everywhere on defense, locking down 1v1 players, stopping attacks via head or foot, making tough tackles, and imposing a physical will on opposing offenses. Marshall saved arguably his best game of the year in the MLS Cup final, completely shutting down the red hot duo of Altidore and Giovinco and they had no answer to his brand of brick wall positioning.
Chad only had three games below average in MLS play in 2016 and his ability to further step up in the playoffs was tremendous. Marshall takes good care of his body, and plays an intelligent style of defense that allows him to age without his skillset depreciating. The partnership with Torres was one that I was a bit skeptical of, but any pace issues between the two looks to be covered by positional intelligence. Chad is such a quiet force on the field that its often easy to overlook just how amazing he plays. At times he flies under the radar, but Marshall was the third highest cumulatively rated overall player on SSFC (6.737/38 apps) in 2016 and I see no signs of him slowing down.
Best Case 2017:
He could win a fourth Defensive Player of the Year. The league should name the award after him the day he retires.