Who is the greatest of all time? Whenever these types of conversations come up, they always get bogged down by bias, opinion, and different eras being defined by different things, especially in the world of soccer. Pelé was doing moves most replacement level defenders are doing now. Cruyff was running at pudgy defenders. You can make an argument for or against just about anything these days and people will disagree with you. There’s probably a video on YouTube that has millions of views explaining why the Earth is flat, or something.
Not very often is something unanimously agreed upon. But when it comes to the best defender in Major League Soccer history, the pick by virtually everyone who matters is Chad Marshall. Anyone who disagrees is just doing so to get a reaction or is just plain wrong.
Are you a person convinced by the longevity of a player’s career? The numbers that follow Chad’s distinguished career are almost overwhelming. 409 regular season appearances in MLS, 404 of which were starts. 35,843 minutes logged over the course of 16 MLS seasons. For those keeping track at home, that’s fourth all-time in MLS, including goalkeepers. He’s even scored 26 times. For a defender, that’s the second-most in MLS history. Are you a person convinced by the trophy case? Well, Chad’s got that checked off as well. He’s lifted the Supporters Shield four times in his career, the MLS Cup twice, and the US Open Cup once.
Need to be swayed by personal achievements? Well, he’s got you there, too. The former Sounder and Columbus Crew centerback is the only defender in MLS history to have won the Defender of the Year award three times. In addition to that, he’s been named to the MLS Best XI four times. The only defender to be named to more Best XI’s is Robin Fraser, who played in a very different era of MLS.
Obviously, the statistical achievements are vast and are deserving the description of “Greatest of All Time” on their own, but Chad’s greatness doesn’t just end there. Around the league, Marshall is universally loved on and off the field by former and current teammates. Don’t believe me? Well, take a look at what Aaron Long had to say when he won the 2018 MLS Defender of the Year award.
The final reason why Chad is the greatest defender in the league’s history has to be the ability he had to stay at the top of his game for so long. Marshall was selected second overall in the 2004 MLS SuperDraft by the Columbus Crew, the same draft that saw Clint Dempsey go to the New England Revolution. Chad quickly matured into a top defender in the league and never faded, even into his mid-30s. The era that saw Chad at the top of his game was also an era of unmatched attacking talent in league history. The year that Chad won his first Defender of the Year award, 2008, happened to be the second full season of the Designated Player rule in MLS. Chad was able to adjust to an infusion of attacking talent, and not only did he adapt, but he was able to overcome and dominate. Even when examining just his time in Seattle, where he arrived as surplus goods due to his age and salary, he remained an elite defender.
Perhaps the only blemish on Marshall’s career was something completely out of his control. Over 14 years of international eligibility, he received only 12 caps with the US Men’s National Team. Marshall was a prominent fixture of the U-17s and U-20s during his time with those teams, but for whatever reason, various national team coaches never saw a need for him in their squads. I suppose it’s fitting that the current national team coach, Gregg Berhalter, was the one responsible for trading him to Seattle in his very first move as the coach of the Crew.
He might not hold the title forever, but without a doubt, Chad Marshall is the best defender this league has ever seen. In a lot of ways, that’s not surprising. But let’s not let his lack of novelty and flair cloud the reality of just how good Chad has been to us. To honor Chad’s legacy, MLS should name the Defender of the Year award the Chad Marshall of the Year Award. Don’t worry Chad, we will always love you.