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The curious case of Chad Marshall’s USMNT career

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He didn’t pan out, nor did he get a lot of opportunities to showcase his talents on the international stage.

Honduras v USA Photo by Victor Decolongon/Getty Images

Chad Marshall announced his retirement from the game of soccer yesterday, ending a rewarding MLS career that spanned 16 seasons with Columbus Crew SC and the Seattle Sounders. In those 16 seasons, Marshall had 409 MLS league appearances (4th most appearances all time) and 458 total appearances, with 31 goals and 16 assists. His 35,123 minutes played are the 4th most in league history.

He’s also won several trophies and honors throughout his career for Columbus and Seattle. He was 3-time MLS Defender of the Year (2008, 2009, 2014), 4-time MLS Best XI (2008, 2009, 2014, 2018), a 2-time MLS Cup winner (Crew - 2008, Sounders - 2016), a 4-time Supporters’ Shield winner (Crew - 2004, 2008, 2009; Sounders - 2014), and a U.S. Open Cup winner (2014 Sounders). He was consistently good-to-great throughout his career, winning MLS annual awards in 2 decades.

Still, the one thing missing from Chad Marshall’s career was a long stint with the United States Men’s National Team. As he emerged on the scene during his youth career in Irvine, California, and during his collegiate career with the Stanford Cardinal, he appeared 12 times for the U.S. U-17s (with 4 goals), and 30 caps for the U.S. U-20s. He started every match for the U.S. U-20s during the 2003 U-20 World Cup. After he joined the Crew in 2004, however, he never fully got a look on the team.

His first cap for the USMNT came against Colombia on March 9, 2005, where he started and scored in a 3-0 victory. He started another match against Honduras 10 years later. Later that year, he appeared in two World Cup qualifiers for the USMNT, starting both. Then, he disappeared from the international scene, not logging a cap for the USMNT until the 2009 Gold Cup, where he was a starter at centerback for every match except the last group stage match. The USMNT advanced all the way to the final that year, where they would lose to Mexico. Marshall’s rise back to the national team came during a stretch where he had back-to-back MLS Defender of the Year awards and back-to-back MLS Best XIs.

Marshall then appeared in a World Cup qualifier late in 2009 and then again at January Camp in 2010, fighting to be one of the defenders then-coach Bob Bradley took on the plane to South Africa for the World Cup. However, it was not meant to be, and he once again fell off the preferred list in the USMNT player pool. His next and final appearance for the USMNT was a start against Serbia during January Camp in 2017.

So, despite an illustrious career filled with several years of successes and wins, Chad Marshall only had spot appearances for the USMNT spread out over 12 years. Could it have been because he was overlooked by USMNT coaches? Was it because the national team coaches throughout his career—Bruce Arena, Bob Bradley, and Jurgen Klinsmann—preferred other options at centerback? Or, was it simply that despite his many accolades on the club level that he was not viewed as an international-quality defender capable of stopping the best in the region and the world? The team was 8-2-2 with him in the lineup, allowing only 10 goals (5 of them coming in that 2009 Gold Cup final loss to Mexico). Still, that combined with his consistent play in MLS wasn’t enough to give him more time on the national team.

You could argue that there were some options at centerback during that time that outpaced Marshall. Guys like Oguchi Onyewu, Eddie Pope, Carlos Bocanegra, Geoff Cameron, Jay DeMerit, Jimmy Conrad, John Brooks, Tim Ream, Michael Parkhurst, Matt Besler, Omar Gonzalez, Brad Evans, Clarence Goodson, Matt Miazga, Gregg Berhalter, Danny Califf, and Drew Moor are among the many options that carved out national team careers at centerback over Marshall. As a result, Marshall was just another player in a crowded field that couldn’t create any space to get the looks his resume probably deserved.

Chad Marshall will exit his career as one of the best defenders in MLS history. He probably would have desired a chance to represent the United States at a World Cup or been a featured centerback for the team during World Cup qualifying and Gold Cups throughout his career. It’s a shame he didn’t really get a chance. But, when we look back at the history books of MLS over the past 15 years, we’ll see that Chad Marshall’s name will be all over it as one of the best American defenders the league has ever seen.