This offseason has been a little bit different for two of the Crew's longest tenured players. For the first time since 2007, Chad Marshall and Danny O'Rourke didn't spend December and January celebrating an MLS Cup, a Supporters' Shield or even a playoff appearance. Instead, the two spent the offseason working hard to lead the Black & Gold in avoiding that feeling in 2013.
"Everyone kind of left last year with a bad taste in their mouths," O'Rourke reflected. "Everyone wanted to come back not just to get in shape for preseason, but to come back ready to work from day one. I think it's showed the first couple of days."
O'Rourke continued, "You take a couple of days and look back at games where you should've played better, games where you shouldn't have given up a goal or where you didn't score a goal and other opportunities squandered. I learned from a good coach one time that the best thing about a soccer player is a short memory. Whether it's a bad pass or bad first touch, or whether it's not making the playoffs, you've got to learn how to put it behind you. If you fret on that, you're not going anywhere."
Recovering from ankle surgery at the end of the 2012 season, Marshall spent almost every day of the offseason in the gym, working tirelessly to report to training camp in his best possible fitness level. Marshall reported to preseason slimmer and ready to return to the form that earned him MLS Defender of the Year honors in 2008 and 2009.
"Last year was frustrating with injuries and the way the season went," Marshall said. "I'm glad I got my ankle injury taken care of and I just wanted to come in fit and have a successful year."
"I've been working hard in the gym, working with Brook [Hamilton, the Crew's Strength and Conditioning Coach]," he continued. "I went to visit my family in California for a week, but other than that, I was here and in the gym trying to get fit. Last year, I came into preseason carrying an ankle injury and I was kind of limited. I didn't want that to be the situation this year. I've just been trying to work hard and haven't had any problems so far."
"This year [Marshall] has a head start and obviously he wants to be better and perform to be the best defender in the League again like he was a few years ago, two times in a row," Head Coach Robert Warzycha said. "If he gets back to that point of being one of the best defenders in the League, I think the playoffs are a reality and we can win the Eastern Conference Championship. He's on his way to having a good year."
When the Crew parted ways with leaders Frankie Hejduk, Duncan Oughton, Guillermo Barros Schelotto and Gino Padula after the 2010 season, it left Marshall and O'Rourke as the elder statesmen to lead the Black & Gold.
"[Leadership] kind of fell into our lap," O'Rourke explained. "One day, Frankie [Hejduk] and Duncan [Oughton] were here, Guillermo [Barros Schelotto] was here and the next day it was up to us. With that, that's the way it goes. You learn from the guys you look up to and then all of a sudden you're the guys people are looking up to for leadership"
Though the tandem has built a chemistry since O'Rourke joined Marshall and the Crew ahead of the 2007 season, each of the veterans take similar approaches to to leading the Black & Gold.
"I think we just lead by example, show the young guys that you have to come in every day and work hard," said Marshall. "Nothing's given. It's tough to make the playoffs in this League. It's not a given. Working hard every day and listening to what the coaches have to say, taking it all in and in stride is what we're trying to pass on to younger guys."
"It's not just going out there and working hard every day in games and practices and everything," O'Rourke added. "It's actually helping guys out too because we're all going to have rough patches through the course of the year. We need to be able help each other out and get everyone back up to par as soon as possible."
Marshall will begin his third season as the Crew's captain in 2013, and though only one player can wear the armband, O'Rourke will be right there as his co-pilot.