From the moment he stepped on the Crew’s training ground in 2004, Chad Marshall’s coaches and teammates knew he would stick around for a while.
Nine years later, Marshall has claimed every one of the club’s records of longevity. Most recently, accomplishing a rare feat that few have surpassed in the Major League Soccer’s history.
In the 58th minute of Saturday’s match against the Philadelphia Union, Marshall became the 46th field player in MLS’s 18 years to play 20,000 minutes. One of only four players in MLS history to record 20,000 all while playing with just one club, Marshall has become a Crew icon in his own right. No other player in Crew history has spent 20,000 minutes in Black & Gold.
"It feels like I'm getting old," the 28 year old joked after the match. "These records and stuff only come to old people. It means a lot. I've been here a long time, since I was a teenager, so it's cool to get these accolades."
Marshall’s path to the 20,000-minute has contained twists and turns in his 10 seasons with the Crew, and the defender is hoping to write some more history with the club in the coming years.
Though a standout during his two years at Stanford University and a regular on United States Youth National Teams, Marshall was overshadowed by America’s first soccer prodigy in Freddy Adu ahead of the 2004 MLS SuperDraft. To the Crew’s benefit, D.C. United selected Adu first overall and the Black & Gold chose Marshall with the second pick to help compliment MLS and U.S. National Team veterans Robin Fraser and Frankie Hejduk.
Far from the Golden State of California where he had spent his entire life to that point, Marshall had no idea of what to expect playing for the Crew.
But right away, the 19 year old made quite the impression on his new teammates.
“When he came in he was immediately one of the best headers of the ball in the League, arguably one of the best defensive headers in the League and certainly one of the better attacking headers in the League,” Fraser says of his first impressions of Marshall.
“Those two things set him apart right away. The other thing that set him apart is his great ability to read when balls get played into forwards and get his foot on it to win it. Given his size and strength, you put all that together with his composure on the ball, you knew he was going to be something special.”
Adds Hejduk: “He was a big kid coming in, so you knew his size was going to be a big part of his game. But his feet were probably some of the best feet I've ever seen in the League to this point for a big guy, to be honest. I don't think a lot of people know about Chad's feet because he's so lethal in the air and uses his body so well in defending. His touch on the ball and his feet with the ball are really second to no one in the League.”
Marshall helped the Crew to the 2004 MLS Supporters’ Shield and an MLS record 19-match unbeaten streak that season, making 28 appearances in his rookie campaign. As a finalist for the Rookie of the Year award that season with New England’s Clint Dempsey and D.C. United’s Freddy Adu, Marshall earned the respect of opponents and media around the League. Though losing the award to Dempsey, Chad Marshall had become a name to know around American soccer circles as he earned his first call-up to the U.S. National team in March of the following year. He scored in his first cap, a 3-0 victory for the Yanks over Colombia.
While Fraser collected his second MLS Defender of the Year award, the tutelage he and Hejduk provided Marshall was invaluable to the rookie defender.
“Picking Robin’s brain, watching him day-in and day-out, you learn so much,” Marshall reflects. “And to have a guy like Frankie too, it was just a wealth of experience to pick stuff up from.”
“I think more than anything, it was all the information sharing,” Fraser adds. “At that time, I had been playing for a number of years and I'd seen a number of situations. We'd have discussions all the time: during training, on the field during games, after games.
“I knew he'd be something special and I certainly enjoyed playing next to him.”
Marshall had become one of the top defenders in MLS by 2007, but there came a point in which he wasn’t sure whether his soccer career would continue or not.
A concussion and the harsh symptoms that followed plagued Marshall in the months after, making the then-23 year old fear his playing days were coming to an end. The defender began considering his options for a life after soccer.
“There was a time after my concussion in '07-- when I got the old Will Hesmer side-volley to the back of the head-- I was concerned,” Marshall recalls.
“I was trying to figure out what I was going to do. If the 2008 preseason didn't work out, I would've probably gone back to school, to California to try and figure things out. There have definitely been times where I've been worried.”
No doubt, concussions have been biggest blockade in Marshall’s road to 20,000 minutes. Marshall knows the risk that comes with carrying on with his soccer career after another concussion scare occurred in 2012 to force the defender to miss eight matches, but the Crew centerback knows he can’t change his style of play.
“Every time you get hit in the head, you're like 'Oh is this it?'” he says. “You can't let it affect the way you play, or then you play differently and you're not playing as well and you won't be on the field any way.”
After missing 17 matches due to his concussion and the symptoms that followed, Marshall arrived at the Crew’s 2008 preseason camp with a new zest for the sport.
“I basically started my preseason in September of ‘07 because I wasn't allowed to do anything except fitness while guys were practicing,” he recalls. “I came into '08, just happy to be out there and happy to keep playing. I tried not put too much pressure on myself and stick to the stuff I knew I did well, and it worked out.”
“I think he was hungry coming back from the concussion,” former teammate Duncan Oughton says. “After the time off, he came back more competitive. He wanted to win. It showed that season.”
Marshall anchored the Black & Gold backline, starting 29 matches to score a career-high four goals and help deliver the MLS Supporters’ Shield that year.
But it was in the MLS Cup Playoffs where Marshall became a legend around Crew Stadium. Trailing the Chicago Fire 1-1 in the Eastern Conference Final, Marshall leapfrogged Fire forward Brian McBride to head Guillermo Barros Schelotto’s service past Jon Busch to equalize in the 49th minute. Eddie Gaven would score the winner six minutes later to send the Crew to its first MLS Cup Final appearance.
“The Chicago game is probably the best MLS game that I've played in,” Marshall says. “After that game, that was the happiest I've ever been. I was just running around, sprinting and hugging everyone around me.”
Ten days later, in front of his friends and family at the Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif., Marshall rose to the occasion once again with the MLS Cup in his sights. Two minutes after New York Red Bulls forward John Wolyniec scored to tie the game at 1-1, Marshall again headed a Schelotto set-piece into the back of the net. Marshall’s tally claimed the franchise’s first MLS Cup as Hejduk would go on to score a third for the Black & Gold to seal the victory.
“Every kid dreams of scoring the winning goal in the MLS Cup Final,” the Riverside, Calif. native recalls. He would go on to claim the 2008 MLS Defender of the Year award and a spot on the League’s best XI for the season.
But after the celebration ended, Marshall’s road to 20,000 minutes with the Crew was again put in jeopardy. The defender was out of contract following the 2008 season, and a trial with Mainz 05 in Germany could have led a bigger pay day and a chance at playing in Europe.
“It was fun, I had a good time,” says of his trial in Germany. “I was offered a contract, but after the year we had and the dudes we had on the team, I just wanted to come back to Columbus.
“I just thought it was the best situation for me and we went on to be successful after that too.”
Instead, Marshall re-signed with the Black & Gold, helping the club to its second-straight Supporters’ Shield in 2009. Marshall also claimed his second Defender of the Year honor along the way, joining Fraser and Carlos Bocanegra as the only players to receive the award twice.
Returning to Columbus meant an increased role in the locker room for Marshall. A self-proclaimed introvert, the defender’s leadership came from the example he sets with his play.
“I'm a quiet guy, I like being by myself,” Marshall admits. “I just try and always bring it every game. I pride myself on my level of play. I feel I've been consistent through my years in Columbus.”
Marshall’s leadership by example was immediately noticed by his coaches and teammates through his commanding performances in the middle of the Crew defense.
“He [became a leader] in his own quiet way,” Hejduk says of Marshall. “Everyone knows he's not the guy that's going to shout and yell and scream, but he leads by example through the way that he plays his game. It's infectious because he takes his battles personally and he quietly goes about his game and wins battle after battle.”
When Hejduk and the Crew parted ways following the 2010 season, Marshall faced a new challenge: team captain.
Just as he had done when Hejduk wore the captain’s armband, Marshall led his teammates by example. His consistency over the years was a motivating factor in Head Coach Robert Warzycha’s decision to name Marshall captain.
“He leads by his performance,” Warzycha says. “He's very consistent every game. We talk about two or three guys after the game whose performance was the best and he's always one, two or three. That's his leadership.”
Though playmaker Federico Higuaín took over the reins of the captaincy to start the 2013 season, Marshall continues to lead his team just as he always has-- by earning the respect of his teammates with his tireless work ethic and drive to bring championships to Columbus.
In his 10th season and now the longest-tenured player on the Crew’s roster, Marshall has seen it all. He’s been part of four of the club’s five titles, surpassed numerous club records and has built a legacy that will be a measuring stick for MLS defenders to live up to for years to come.
Now 28, with years ahead of him to further distance himself in the club’s record books, there’s only one thing that still drives Marshall.
“I just want to get rings, man,” he says.
“That's all I care about.”