To fully understand what Chad Marshall’s retirement will mean, you need to look beyond the playing field. His loss will be felt there, no doubt. By almost any possible criteria, he was the best defender and certainly the most consistent to ever play in MLS.
But what made Marshall so beloved by teammates and respected by just about everyone else was the stuff that wasn’t quite so public. When Marshall came to Seattle ahead of the 2014 season, he brought a reputation as a very good player but was something of a mystery otherwise. He was a notoriously drab interview, showing little interest in filling reporters’ notebooks or allowing insight into how he viewed the game.
During his early days with the Sounders, it was much of the same. When the situation demanded it, he would dutifully stand in front of the backdrop and answer questions. But he never gave reporters the impression he enjoyed it, openly preferring to let his more famous or willing teammates take the spotlight. The closest thing we all got to insight into Marshall’s personal life that first year was the revelation that he was an unironic fan of Whitney Houston, specifically her hit “I Wanna Dance With Somebody.”
During that first year in Seattle, though, he became a father and got married. Perhaps those lifestyle changes affected his outlook, or maybe we all just embraced him for who he was rather than what we might have wanted him to be. For whatever reason, he seemed a bit more willing to let down his guard with the press and allow fans to better know him as he moved closer to retirement. Those details came out in bits and pieces, like in a 2016 Seattle Times feature that revealed Marshall’s reputation as a notorious prankster and that he was roundly identified as the funniest player on the team.
An even more shocking revelation was that teammates considered Marshall to be among the team’s best dancers. Many of those dances were apparently done bare-ass naked. It was so surprising, I honestly wondered if the Sounders were having a laugh. Following the Sounders’ MLS Cup victory, though, he gave us all a little taste, just enough to prove it wasn’t all some elaborate prank.
There are, predictably, plenty more stories. Like the time he apparently did naked cartwheels through the Columbus Crew locker room — in full view of mostly pre-social media press — in celebration of the 2008 MLS Cup, or how he would often raid Stefan Frei’s locker and try on his much more fitted clothes.
A look at his Instagram page helps explain why everyone seems to love the guy who was affectionately known simply as “Dad.” Nearly every picture shows him flashing a huge smile or bringing joy to others, most often his daughter.
There’s no one story or image that perfectly encapsulates Marshall, but this interview from 2018 comes pretty close to showcasing his range.
It starts off perfunctory enough, with Marshall doing his best to answer questions about the game. But around the two-minute mark he starts to open up when asked to talk about the play of teammate Harry Shipp. His daughter then walks in and he quickly shifts into dad-mode, even giving her on-camera permission to eat a donut. It’s a silly moment, to be sure, but deeply humanizing. Similarly, his answer to the question “How are you feeling?” seems to epitomize where he was in his career.
“I’m all right, just an old guy,” he said. “Hair’s going, still plugging along. It was pretty hot today, so I’m going to have a couple Coronas when I get home and just watch some TV.”
It’s all sort of subtle. Nothing there is going to make a good hook for a story or leave an observer overly impressed. But you can also see why teammates may gravitate to a player like this, someone far more interested in giving plaudits to others or giving directions to his daughter than making an impression on people he doesn’t know. Few of us ever really got to know Marshall, but he was the kind of player we all wish we did.