TUKWILA — Game film didn’t show anything out of the ordinary in the Sounders’ match at Minnesota earlier this month, but when defender Chad Marshall returned to Seattle, he was dragged through seemingly endless treatments and examinations in an effort to remedy the chronic inflammation in his right knee. Marshall, 34, was told there was rapid degeneration in the joint, prompting a looming decision to retire.
Marshall notified the Sounders of his retirement, then announced it publicly Wednesday. The road match in Minnesota on May 4 was the final of Marshall’s 16 seasons in MLS — the past six, including this one, with the Sounders and the previous 10 with the Columbus Crew.
“After more than 15 years of living my childhood dream, the time has come for me to hang up the boots,” Marshall said in a news release. The team is expected to honor the three-time MLS Defender of the Year during the Sounders’ next home match June 29 against Vancouver.
“I’d like to thank everyone that has played a part in my career,” Marshall continued in the news release. “To my teammates, support staff and coaches: you’ve been my second family. The locker room is what I’ll miss the most. Thank you to the fans of Seattle and Columbus for supporting me throughout the years, as well as the Sounders FC and Columbus Crew SC organizations for giving me a chance to represent them on the field. Most importantly, I’d like to thank my family. I’m forever indebted to them for the sacrifices they’ve made in allowing me to pursue this dream. From heartbreaking losses to MLS Cup wins, own goals to cartwheels, it’s been a blast.”
Marshall, a member of Seattle’s 2016 MLS Cup championship team, suffered the injury during the playoffs in November. After a successful surgery, Marshall worked to return and was in his usual center-back slot as the Sounders opened this season on a franchise-best six-game unbeaten streak.
He was only able to play in two of the past seven matches, however, because of the knee pain.
“We knew that Chad had given everything he had,” Sounders general manager Garth Lagerwey said Wednesday. “This is a guy that took an epidural shot at one point to play in a game. He’s as tough as they come. If he’s coming to you saying, ‘This is getting hard,’ then you probably want to listen to him.”
Marshall notified teammates of his retirement after their trip to Philadelphia that ended with a scoreless draw Saturday. Sounders midfielder Cristian Roldan said the announcement was unexpected.
“We’ve won trophies because of him,” Roldan said. “It’s difficult to not have him in the lineup. It’s so weird, to be honest. These last couple of games were very strange without him consistently leading the line and seeing him in the locker room. Seeing how urgent he is. It’s hard to find that balance because he’s been a treat for us in the Sounders organization.”
The second overall pick in the 2004 MLS draft after playing two seasons at Stanford, Marshall ranks fourth in MLS history with 409 appearances. The Sounders acquired him in a trade before the 2014 season in exchange for allocation money and a 2015 third-round draft pick. In addition to the MLS title, Marshall helped Seattle win the 2014 Supporters’ Shield and Open Cup.
On the international side, Marshall made 12 appearances for the U.S. men’s national team, scoring one goal, in a 3-0 friendly win against Colombia in 2005. He made his final national-team appearance Jan. 29, 2017, a scoreless draw against Serbia.
Marshall evolved with the game through his 16-year career, playing in Seattle under two different coaches. In Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer’s system, Marshall played more out of the backfield and took more risks than asked of his position early in his career. The change required a deceptive pace and instinct, which Marshall had.
“He was a fantastic player in every aspect,” said Sounders assistant coach Gonzalo Pineda, who works with the defenders. “He had everything. He was a leader, he was competitive, he was strong, he was tall, he was good in the air, he scored goals in set pieces, he was good in challenges. He was a very complete center back.”
In Marshall’s absence, the Sounders played Roman Torres the past three matches. The team is also expecting new signee Xavier Arreaga, an Ecuadorian defender, to arrive Thursday and join Nouhou, Kim Kee-hee and Jonathan Campbell as center-back options in the lineup.
But on Wednesday, teammates, coaches and staff emphasized no one could replace all that Marshall brought to the Sounders.
Marshall, a married father of one, will also be missed because of his personality in the locker room. Marshall’s menacing, 6-foot-4 stature on the field dissolved into a hugging jokester to teammates and staff. Dancing, laughing and wearing goalkeeper Stefan Frei’s skinny jeans were all ways Marshall kept the mood balanced within the team.
“It’s a huge loss for our league,” said Sounders owner Adrian Hanauer, who served as general manager and orchestrated Marshall’s signing. “After every game, I remember him being absolutely shattered. Not able to hold himself up just because he was so exhausted from what he put into the game. … I remember feeling this pride and appreciation, knowing he left it all on the field.”
Assistant sports editor Alex Iniguez contributed.