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Sounders center back Chad Marshall has earned the respect of MLS players, and Tuesday that helped him win the league’s defender of the year honor for the third time.

Marshall finished second to Bobby Boswell of D.C. United in voting by media and club executives. But he ran away with the players’ vote, easily outpacing second-place Boswell and third-place Omar Gonzalez of the L.A. Galaxy.

Marshall became the first three-time winner of the award, and the first Sounders player to be so honored. Marshall also won in 2008 and 2009 with Columbus.

“Just a ton of respect,” Sounders defensive partner Zach Scott said. “That’s really cool. That’s your peers right there, the ones you’re battling against.

“That says a lot about how instrumental Chad has been and the impression he’s made on a lot of really good soccer players.”

Marshall started 31 of Seattle’s 34 regular-season matches in his first season as a Sounder, but his impact was perhaps most clearly demonstrated in three games he missed.

Seattle earned just one point in Marshall’s absences, with a 2-2 May draw in Vancouver and a two-match losing streak that stretched between late July and early August.

“I think the players know who are the tougher guys to play against and who does more on the field,” Sounders coach Sigi Schmid said. “… Sometimes as a coach, I like to be right out on the field, because you see what’s going on, you see the little things and hear the talking you don’t hear from the press box or the sidelines.

“Those organizational things, the little things that (Marshall) reads are things that you can’t pick up on from far away. The players recognize him for what he did.”

That’s not to say his impact doesn’t show up on the stat sheet, as well.

Marshall led the league with 136 interceptions, recorded 126 headers won and 206 clearances and matched a career high with three assists.

Most strikingly, Marshall was whistled for just 20 fouls in the regular season, 11th on the team — behind even forwards Obafemi Martins and Clint Dempsey — and less than half the total racked up each by Osvaldo Alonso, DeAndre Yedlin and Lamar Neagle.

“That’s just Chad being in the right place at the right time,” Scott said. “He’s never on the back foot or chasing. He’s always in a good position and a lot of that comes with a ton of experience, as well as being a naturally gifted defender.”

With the award, Marshall broke a tie with two-time honorees Carlos Bocanegra and Robin Fraser on the list of all-time defender of the year winners.

“There are a lot of great names on that list of players,” Marshall said. “To be the first to get to three, that means a lot.”

Matt Pentz: 206-464-3184 or mpentz@seattletimes.com