Through six matches this season, Crew captain Chad Marshall has had three different partners in the Black & Gold's central defense.
It hasn't been easy by any stretch for the two-time Major League Soccer Defender of the Year to build a chemistry with a new face nearly every week.
Marshall knew he would be without Julius James to start 2012, his partner for 31 matches last season, due to offseason shoulder surgery. New addition Carlos Mendes was the leading candidate to fill James' role, but the veteran suffered a hamstring injury in the week leading up to the Crew's opening match against the Colorado Rapids in early March. Danny O'Rourke, naturally a holding midfielder, started Columbus' first two matches alongside Marshall in the back line until he injured his ankle just before the club's match against Toronto. Second year player Eric Gehrig filled in for the next three matches, helping the Black & Gold to a shutout in his 2012 debut in Toronto. Against Houston last week, Robert Warzycha inserted Josh Williams into the starting lineup for the 24 year old's first career start.
"It's tough, honestly," Marshall said after Wednesday's training session at the Crew's facility in Obetz. "You'd like to have that partner you know you're going play with and can build chemistry. It's tough having a new guy in there each week, but that being said, it's getting (Gehrig and Williams) important minutes and that could help us out later in the year."
In his eighth season in MLS, Marshall knows it's his duty as the Crew's captain to lead by example for a team whose average age is just under 25 years old.
"There's no question: (Marshall) is one of the leaders of this team and being in the back and seeing the entire field he can help a lot of the guys in front of him and especially the guy that is playing next to him," Warzycha said of his captain.
Marshall's leadership was key in helping Williams learn on the field in his first start last week having only played alongside each other less than a handful of times going into the match against Houston.
"Chad's not much of a talker, but he said just to play the way I know how to play because that's the reason I'm here and go out and have fun," Williams said. "It's easy playing next to a guy like that for me. Personally, I think he's the best defender in the League. He picks up some of my slack and hopefully I can do the same for him."
Williams will likely get his second straight start this weekend against Vancouver Whitecaps FC. However, Marshall could partner with yet another new face in the coming weeks as Carlos Mendes works his way back from a lingering hamstring injury and Julius James continues to recover from a spontaneous pneumothorax suffered on April 5.