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The case for Chad Marshall as Defender of the Year

Cristian Roldan says opposing forwards “don’t want any part” of Marshall.

Max Aquino / Sounder at Heart

TUWKILA, Wash. — Now having played 400 games in his MLS career, spanning 35,033 minutes of playing time it would seem reasonable to assume that Chad Marshall might have lost a step. But his teammates say that by taking smarter steps, Marshall is still one of the most effective defenders in the league.

According to WhoScored, Marshall has been dribbled past just six times in 2018, tied for third-fewest in the league among center backs. Only Kendall Waston (VAN), Brent Kallman (MIN) and Tim Parker (NYRB) have been victimized fewer times by attacking players, and Waston and Kallman have played 367 and 606 fewer minutes, respectively.

Marshall has also had to attempt the fewest number of tackles — 28, with 22 successful — of any of the 27 center backs who have made at least 20 appearances this season. He’s fourth in the league for interceptions among players who fit the same criteria, with 69.

Critically, Marshall has conceded only 12 fouls heading into the final match of the regular season, the lowest figure in the pool of center backs. Not giving away fouls has become a Chad Marshall specialty (he doesn’t like paying fines); Marshall committed 12 fouls in 2017 and 13 in 2016.

All this data points to what teammate Cristian Roldan told reporters at Sounders training Wednesday: Marshall rarely puts a foot wrong.

“His positioning is extremely good,” Roldan said. “He understands the game so much that he’s able to find his angles when tracking back and also winning his duels. At the end of the day, forwards don’t want to size up against him. They don’t want to run in behind against him. I think forwards don’t really want anything to do with him, if I’m quite honest. He cuts angles extremely well and tracks guys. He’s very vocal with his midfielders. Those are qualities that make him Defender of the Year.”

Defender of the Year. An award that only Marshall has won three times. If he were to win it in 2018, Marshall would be the oldest player to win the award since his teammate Robin Fraser, then 37 years old, won it with the Columbus Crew in Marshall’s rookie season of 2004.

With the attention given to players like New York Red Bulls’ Parker or Aaron Long and Real Salt Lake’s Justen Glad, it may be difficult for Marshall to command the spotlight the same way he did during dominant stretches with the Crew and a triumphant 2014 season, but the numbers show that despite having to contend with much younger opposition, Marshall is still one of the best in the league at shutting down opposing players.

“(Marshall) knows what he’s doing because he’s been here for 15 years,” Sounders right back Kelvin Leerdam said Wednesday. “Nothing surprises him anymore. I’m in my 11th season and I’m not too worried when it goes bad. He’s had so much experience. He’s seen a lot more than me. I think that’s a big part of it: don’t worry too much. I think that makes the game a lot easier. You’re going to have bad games and very good games, but with the experience you’ve gained in the past, it helps a lot because when you have bad times you know how to deal it and when you have good times you know how to stay with both feet on the ground. Chad is good at that.

“Chad is a guy who is not worried about things that happen around him. He’s doing his job. He’s always a happy guy. When you’re happy outside the pitch, you play with a lot of joy. Everything comes easy for him.”

With Marshall anchoring the back line, Seattle has conceded 36 goals in 33 matches, the second-lowest figure in the league (only the New York Red Bulls, with Parker and Long, have conceded fewer). A group effort, to be sure, but Marshall’s performance has remained exceptional. Add-in a career-tying four goals on the opposite end of the field and Marshall has put together a sublime 2018 campaign before it has even ended.

While Marshall is likely focusing on another run at postseason glory in hopes of a third consecutive MLS Cup appearance (and third career league title overall), there would be a sense of propriety if Marshall is named Defender of the Year. After all, when the center back eventually decides to hang up his cleats (something he has not shown any outward sign of contemplating this year), they’ll probably name the award after him.