Chad Marshall has felt something like this before.
In 2008, he was a key member of the Columbus Crew when everything clicked into place and the club claimed the Supporters’ Shield and its first MLS Cup.
Now Marshall is a defensive centerpiece for Seattle Sounders FC, another team with the Shield in its pocket and the Cup in its sights.
“From a talent standpoint, I think we’re above what we had in Columbus,” Marshall said. “But I think what was special about that team was how much everyone cared for each other. And I think that’s definitely something that we have here. The locker room is incredible here: Guys getting together off the field. It’s just a very close-knit group, and I think that’s where it starts. Obviously, it’s been a successful season so far.”
The Sounders get their first chance to keep that success going at 6 p.m. Sunday, when they visit FC Dallas in the first leg of the Western Conference semifinals. The aggregate-score series will resolve Nov. 10 in Seattle.
It could present a classic match of strength against strength, as Dallas had the fourth-highest goals total in the league while Marshall has re-emerged as a top candidate for the MLS defensive player of the year.
“I don’t know who else it would be,” said Sounders midfield Brad Evans, who also was a teammate of Marshall’s in Columbus. “There are a couple of guys that have had decent seasons. But as far as shutting down his opponent and winning aerial duels, playing it out of the back and stifling the other team, I think there’s nobody else. It’s not a question.”
Marshall already has won the award twice, in 2008 and 2009. However, the individual recognitions slowed as the Crew drifted from the top of the table to the middle of the pack. Seattle coach Sigi Schmid has indicated that Marshall might have needed a change of scenery after a decade with the same club, but Marshall doesn’t see it that way.
“I like to think I didn’t venture too far from that level,” he said. “Obviously here in Seattle we have a lot more nationally televised games, and maybe people see me more than they did in Columbus, where we might only have one or two a year. So maybe it’s just we’re on national TV more.”
Recognition started early for Marshall. Now 30, he says he picked the sport in early childhood, following the lead of a somewhat older friend. By age 8, he was playing with Arsenal FC, a prestigious club in Southern California. As a high school freshman, he hit a growth spurt that took him near his current 6-foot-4. Before his senior year, Stanford came calling.
“My parents were really good about making sure my sister and I were good academically,” Marshall said. “From a very young age I thought (Stanford) was the best combination of academics and athletics. I always wanted to go there. … It’s an unbelievable school, and I’m happy to have went there for a couple of years.”
Over those two seasons, Marshall started 39 of 40 matches and earned all-Pac-10 honors. He joined MLS as the second overall pick of the 2004 SuperDraft.
He went on to be a finalist for rookie of the year, finishing just behind Clint Dempsey, then of New England and now of the Sounders. In 2006, he got a new coach: Sigi Schmid, now of the Sounders. And in 2007, he greeted a new rookie teammate: Evans.
In 2008, Marshall, Evans and Schmid all celebrated Columbus’ double: MLS Cup and Supporters’ Shield. But after that season, Schmid left to take over the expansion Sounders, and Evans followed through the expansion draft.
It didn’t take Schmid long to decide he wanted Marshall to join the reunion in Seattle. But that was easier said than done as the Crew won the Supporters’ Shield again in 2009, and Marshall again was voted defender of the year. By 2011, Marshall was captain of the Crew and was rewarded with a contract running through 2015.
“We could never get him out of Columbus,” Schmid said. “(Former Crew president) Mark McCullers was always very insistent that he was the face of the franchise and wanted to keep him there in Columbus. When (coach) Gregg Berhalter came in that changed a little bit; we thought there was an opportunity.”
That’s also about the time that new contract — he makes $287,000 in total compensation this season — became something of a sticking point. Marshall says that in his first meeting with his new coach, Berhalter implied that he could accept a pay cut or the club could try to work out a trade with the Sounders.
“I kind of always told myself that if something came up with the opportunity to go to Seattle, I would jump on it,” Marshall said. “It’s hard not to like what’s going on here. It’s just a special situation. I was good friends with Brad Evans and I was always talking to him, and he had such good things to say about the club. So when (Berhalter) said that, I was like, ‘Yeah, that interests me.’ It was also kind of off-putting: in your first meeting with your coach, you’re kind of excited, and he brings up a trade and tells you that you make too much money.”
The deal was completed Dec. 12, 2013, with the Sounders getting Marshall for allocation money and a third-round pick in the 2015 SuperDraft.
It seems to have been a bargain. The Sounders recorded a franchise best 20-10-4 season — but went 0-2-1 over the three matches Marshall missed due to injury. Along the way, they picked up their fourth U.S. Open Cup and their first Supporters’ Shield. And now they hope they are on the road to their first MLS Cup, which would give them the first treble in the 19-season history of MLS.
“It’s been something we’ve talked about all season, setting goals for ourselves,” Marshall said. “Sigi kind of talked about it all throughout the year, about how he thinks this could be a special season. We’ve won U.S. Open Cup, we’ve won the Supporters’ Shield now. We’ve got two of the three now. So why not? We’ve got five games left, why not go for the whole thing?”