Change is never easy, but sometimes parting with the past is the first step in moving forward.
As the Crew ushers in a new era under Investor-Operator and Chairman Anthony Precourt and Sporting Director and Head Coach Gregg Berhalter, the Black & Gold have parted ways with the only remaining player from their 2008 MLS Cup-winning side by trading longtime defender Chad Marshall to Seattle Sounders FC in exchange for allocation money and a 2015 MLS SuperDraft selection. Marshall's departure follows Eddie Gaven's retirement in October, while conversations with Danny O'Rouke – whose option was declined in November – and out-of-contract goalkeeper Andy Gruenebaum are ongoing. With neither player currently on the club’s roster, Marshall’s departure is another step in a new direction for Berhalter’s Black & Gold side.
Yet with change comes opportunity, and following today’s deal Berhalter has secured a significant amount of resources to continue building the Crew’s 2014 roster.
"Unfortunately in our League in order to get something of value you have to make difficult decisions," Berhalter explained. "This deal gives us significant flexibility to continue building our roster. We feel that this is the perfect time to maximize Chad's value, and by us doing this trade, we have received that and additional resources."
Selected second overall in the 2004 MLS SuperDraft by the Crew, Marshall is one of three players in League history to win the MLS Defender of the Year Award twice and departs as Columbus' all-time leader in matches and minutes played. Without a doubt, Marshall will always have a prominent place in the club's history as the anchor of the Crew's backline the past 10 seasons.
READ: Marshall's road to the 20,000-minute milestone
"Certainly, I think Chad's resume speaks for itself," club President Mark McCullers said. "Like Eddie Gaven – who we also lost this year – he's been an anchor for this team. It's tough, having Chad Marshall back there gives you a sense of comfort. For me, he's been one of the best defenders in this League for the past 10 years and is still one of the best defenders going forward.
"Chad in his own way kept the locker room loose, continued McCullers. “He was somebody who had a lot of experience as part of that championship team in 2008. Over the course of time, he'd grown to be somebody that the younger guys looked up to, wearing the captain's armband for a couple of years. He commanded a lot of respect. His performance on the field spoke for itself."
Marshall scored the equalizer against the Chicago Fire in the 2008 Eastern Conference Final at Crew Stadium before netting the match-winner in MLS Cup 10 days later. In addition his two MLS Defender of the Year honors, Marshall was an MLS All-Star in 2009 and 2010 as well as an MLS Best XI selection in 2008 and 2009.
A fan favorite during his time in Columbus, today’s move may be difficult to process for some members of Black & Gold Nation. However, when taking a deeper dive into the stringent nature of MLS’ salary cap restrictions, the Marshall deal provides the Crew with a significant amount of flexibility for future roster decisions. According to the MLS Players' Union, Marshall was the Crew's second-highest paid player in 2013 behind Designated Player Federico Higuaín. With Marshall's salary off the books for 2014, combined with the allocation money the club receives from Seattle in exchange for the defender, Berhalter could be gaining over $500,000 in salary cap flexibility to continue building his roster for next season. That news is especially important as it relates to new offseason signings.
"When we're targeting players, when we're targeting building a team and getting a core group of players, this [trade] will give us the ability to go after some targets that we potentially couldn't before," Berhalter stated. "This deal has given us that flexibility. We talk about the availability of funds and this accomplishes that in a big way."
Marshall's vacancy leaves the newly re-signed Josh Williams as the Crew's longest-tenured player. Additionally, Dominic Oduro and Tyson Wahl each hold the most MLS experience on the Black & Gold's roster with eight years of service in the League. At age 30, defender Agustín Viana is the most senior player employed by the club.
With 21 players already signed for 2014 and a strong core in place, Berhalter will use the weeks ahead to address his most pressing roster needs for next season.
"It's been no secret that we’ve been looking at attacking targets, we've been looking at people that can help us on the attacking side of the game, but losing Chad is going to create a void in the back," the former U.S. Men's National Team centerback said. "So we have to be aware of all of these positions that we need to fill and do it in a smart way.
"We have some targets that we're looking at. It's doing the due diligence, doing the research, doing the communication and hopefully getting the right guy."
Thursday’s MLS Re-Entry Process could be the first opportunity to land another piece to bolster the Crew backline, while trading within MLS and the international market remain options for acquiring talent ahead of the 2014 season.