Here’s a way in that Chad Marshall is an example of not being able to judge a book by its cover. I say this lovingly, but it’s something people have asked me about and commented on over the years, and something that even his dearest friends seem to agree upon—Chad Marshall was not the best body-language player. If you look through Crew history, guys like Brian McBride and Wil Trapp are paragons of sturdy professionalism. Frankie Hejduk was a symbol of indefatigable effort and rah-rah motivation. Guillermo Barros Schelotto bristled with intellectual intensity, whereas Danny O’Rourke’s intensity manifested itself in more visceral and bloodthirsty ways. Jeff Cunningham exuded brash bravado. Ansil Elcock played the game with an ever-present smile that radiated joy for the game. People easily identify with these types of players based on body language alone.
From afar, when Marshall took the field for warmups, it appeared as if the game was an obligation that had interrupted a good nap. Once a match started, he was fired up and competitive, but he had a different way of expressing it. In addition to mega-cathartic goal celebrations, there were also eye rolls, irritated mutterings, hands on hips, head shakes, and arms flailing in frustration from time to time. In those first few years, my friends and I used to joke about how it was only a matter of when, not if, Marshall would pick up Busch and snap him in half. We thought he might literally commit first-degree murder in front of an entire stadium.
Busch, of course, was a persistently loud and talkative goalkeeper. This was surely annoying to everyone, but nobody consistently responded quite like Marshall. Although he never murdered Busch, he never shied away from making his feelings known in the heat of battle, sometimes in memorable fashion.
“The way I always knew that I got under Chad’s skin is that he wouldn’t even turn around,” Busch recalled. “He would just reach his hand backward and flip me off. It would make me laugh every single time he did it. The no-look finger. It was hysterical.”
By way of explanation, Marshall matter-of-factly stated the obvious to Busch that he’d get so tired of listening to him that he’d just flip him off. Busch viewed the irritated flip-offs as unorthodox affirmation.
“At least he heard me!” Busch said with a laugh. “Him flipping me off was just telling me he heard me.”
Here’s the thing. Sitting in the stands, you’d think that Marshall and Busch were mortal enemies thrown together by the happenstance of their profession. The truth is that Busch and Marshall were roommates on the road. They remain friends to this day.
A story like Marshall flipping off Busch is an example of what Oughton calls The Chad Way.
“He definitely had a snap to him,” Oughton said. “Everyone has their own way of doing things, but once you understood the Chad Way, it’s awesome. If you were his teammate, it wasn’t a big deal. If you didn’t know him, you’d probably be like ‘What the hell?’ But if you knew him, it was actually funny. And some of the times it was at himself. He’d throw his arms up in the air at himself.”
O’Rourke has a favorite on-field Marshall story and it seems to be an example of The Chad Way. It took place during Danny’s first game at center back, following a collegiate and professional career spent destroying people as a defensive midfielder. O’Rourke’s game was simple to that point—go get the ball and annihilate anyone in the way. As a center back, O’Rourke had to learn to restrain his impulses. It took a while. So, there he was, in that very first game at center back, and the opposing left wing had the ball. Danny raced out to go get the ball and/or kick the bejeebers out of the guy. In doing so, he opened a gaping chasm in the Crew’s back line.
“I’m in no man’s land,” O’Rourke said, “and all I can hear is Chad yelling, ‘DANNY!!! WHAT THE (EFF) ARE YOU DOING?!?!?’”
O’Rourke, alerted to the error of his ways, shouted “I HAVE NO IDEA!” and then turned to sprint back into position. And that’s when he heard Marshall giggling. Looking up to see Marshall openly laughing at him while tightly marking his own man put the whole absurdly comical scene into perspective for the high-strung O’Rourke.
“He made the transition so much easier,” O’Rourke said. “I was always wound up a bit and he did a good job of calming me down.”
The Chad Way, for as hilariously lacerating as it could occasionally be on the field, was carefree, nurturing, and heartwarmingly human off the field. Eric Gehrig was an unheralded and undrafted Crew rookie in 2011. He went on to play six seasons in MLS and is currently an assistant coach with the Chicago Fire. He feels all of it may not have been possible without Marshall, who welcomed him into the team from day one.
“Chad helped me believe in myself,” Gehrig said. “It was surprising because he opened up to me and didn’t treat me like the rookie bottom-end-of-the-roster type of guy. You see that a lot in pro sports where you see these guys that are big stars and they act like it, but that’s not Chad.”
Gehrig made eight appearances as a holding midfielder in 2011, but in 2012, he was given a last-minute start at center back in Toronto, making the same positional transition O’Rourke had made four years earlier.
“I felt like Beckenbauer next to Chad,” Gehrig said. “He didn’t fret. He was like, ‘Okay man, let’s go.’ I ended up getting man of the match. Without Chad, none of that ever happens because he settled me down and acted like this was business as usual. I don’t know if he felt that way deep down, but he had me feeling like I was ready to rock & roll.”
According to Hesmer, it was one of Marshall’s greatest gifts as a teammate.
“[Young players] loved him,” Hesmer said. “He’s a constant reminder, because you’re so tightly wound, you’re so nervous, you’re so excited and you’re constantly having what you feel like are the biggest moments of your life, and Chad is like, ‘No, dude, this is fun. The things that you are getting stressed and anxious about? Go ball. This is fun. There’s a reason you’re here.’ That’s invaluable to a locker room. Especially for a young player.”
“He took the edge off,” added Oughton. “He’d say, ‘Whatever. It’s just soccerball. It’s soccerball, man. We just play soccerball.’”
Marshall was never much of a media guy. He grew into the role and learned to have fun with it as his career progressed, but it certainly wasn’t something he relished. After all, he was just a guy who played soccerball for a living. Why all the fuss? Keep in mind that I never personally had a bad experience with Chad, but he was never one to seek the spotlight.
When he did put himself through the interview process, he was usually quick to make fun of himself. On more than one occasion, Chad concluded an interview by declaring it the worst interview ever. Sometimes it was sarcastically triumphant, sometimes it was truly apologetic, but it was always directed at himself. One time, we wrapped up an interview and he asked if any of his answers were any good. When I replied in the affirmative, he raised his fists into the air and said, “Yes! That year and a half at Stanford paid off!”
My favorite Chad interview didn’t even result in an interview. I was bumbling through asking him about something or other and he gave me a bland answer that didn’t take me anywhere, so I tried to reformulate the question and then he said, “You’re after something, but I can’t figure out what it is.” I said I was just after whatever he had to say. He said, “No you’re angling for something, but I haven’t figured it out. I’m dumb. Just tell me.” I said I hadn’t figured it out either and this confusion was simply the result of me being a crappy interviewer. He assured me that it’s really because he’s a crappy interviewee. We laughed. Then he gave me one of those big Chad Marshall hugs. Then we laughed again.
And then we just gave up on the interview and started talking about random stuff. That was way more fun for both of us.
A MASSIVE SEASON is now available as an ebook.