SEATTLE – The era Chad Marshall knew had ended.
The stalwart defender had just finished his 10th MLS season with the Columbus Crew, seemingly an eternity in professional sports, and he took a look around this past offseason.
There was a new owner. There was a new coach. Departures of veterans Danny O’Rourke and Andy Gruenebaum meant almost everyone from the 2008 MLS Cup-winning team was gone in just a few years.
“It seemed to be like I was the last one,” said Marshall.
“They were obviously starting over, and I thought it was as good a time as any to maybe look at going somewhere else.”
Marshall got his fresh start when the rebuilding Crew traded the 29-year-old to Seattle for allocation money and a third-round draft pick. And the Sounders? Well, they just might have acquired the best defender in franchise history.
At a towering 6-foot-4, Marshall is the centerpiece of a reworked defense that has two shutouts in its first three games. He was named MLS Defender of the Year in 2008 and 2009. He’s earned the nickname “Air Marshall” as he wins nearly every header in his vicinity.
And his teammates are raving.
“In my mind, the best defender in the league,” said midfielder Brad Evans.
A rejuvenated Marshall has been aided in his transition to Seattle due to a number of old Columbus connections. Coach Sigi Schmid led the Crew for three years before coming to the Sounders after the 2008 championship. Evans and assistant coach Ezra Hendrickson were former teammates in black and yellow.
Schmid has argued that Marshall, making just 11 international appearances for the United States, has been overlooked by the USMNT.
“I think his quality is comparable to center backs who are in the national team pool right now,” the coach said.
If there was criticism of Marshall, it’s that he has lacked motivation at times with Columbus.
“I think whenever you’ve been at a place for a long time, maybe a change of scenery is good for you,” Schmid noted.
That change is at the center of this week’s challenge. Marshall, for the first time, has to face his former team as the Sounders host the Crew tonight.
“I spent 10 years there, so I’m always going to be a fan of theirs,” Marshall added. “Just not this week.”