TUKWILA – Surely, opinions would vary on the perfect environment for cultivating a physical and aggressive soccer defender.
But the Tyrone Marshall blueprint seems to have worked: Take the fourth son in a five-boy family and raise him in austere conditions in Kingston, Jamaica. If he can defend his place at the dinner table, he’s got the attitude to protect the defensive end of the pitch.
Marshall scored the only Seattle Sounders goal in an important road draw against Chicago last week, and has been an important element in making the Sounders one of the stingiest goals-against teams in the MLS. He sneaked in on the back side and left-footed the ball past goalkeeper Jon Busch after Freddie Ljungberg slightly overshot a corner kick.
The goal was only his second in the past three-plus seasons. So scoring is not why he was brought in from Toronto FC. Now 34, with his fifth team in a 12-season MLS career, Marshall’s defensive skills have landed him on the MLS All-Star team twice.
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Asked to describe his style of play, Marshall doesn’t dodge the obvious: “I’m very aggressive, very physical,” he said. “You have to be that way as a centerback. I think a lot of people respect me because I leave everything on the pitch and I bring my lunch pail every day.”
His experience and attitude were important additions to the expansion Sounders. He had played on two championship L.A. Galaxy teams for coach Sigi Schmid, so the Sounders knew what they were getting.
“We have to play like that every day,” Marshall said. “We had a heated discussion (Wednesday) in practice because the games were pretty tight and people were getting knocked off the ball a little bit. So, it can get a little heated.”
Marshall is clever, though. Although he’s often charged with taking an opponent off the ball before he threatens goalkeeper Kasey Keller, Marshall has been whistled for only three fouls ... and that’s while playing in every minute (630) of the Sounders’ seven games.
When he looks back, now, Marshall sees the value of his roots in Kingston, which he called a “go-get-it environment.”
“You learn that you’ve got to fend for yourself,” he said. “There’s hardships, but you learn from it; you have to go get things for yourself. You have to fight for your spot at the table.”
His four children probably get tired of hearing Marshall preach the need to be appreciative, but he said there’s an important message in the experience and he wants to be certain they understand.
“I tell them, ‘Be glad there’s food on the table’ because there were times when I woke up in the morning and you might get a slice of bread and little butter and some tea, and it might be dinner time before you got anything more than that. So, I let them know they need to appreciate what they’ve got. There’s a lot of people less fortunate.”
Jamaica has grown even more dangerous since Marshall’s youth, as a reported 1,600 murders took place in 2008.
“The violence has touched the whole country,” he said. “I have two uncles who were killed, growing up in that area and being mistaken for the wrong person. It’s a tough environment, and people have gotten immune to it because it’s around them every day. I wish that could change.”
Marshall’s family immigrated to south Florida, and he eventually starred at Florida International University before being drafted into the MLS in 1998.
The highlights since have been the championship seasons in 2002 and 2005 with the Galaxy. In 2007, a physical tackle of Dallas forward Kenny Cooper resulted in a three-game suspension for Marshall, and a broken leg for Cooper. Reports at the time had Marshall calling Cooper to apologize for the damage, and to stress there was no ill-intent.
Whether Marshall was well-liked by former teams was evidenced when the Sounders visited Toronto recently, and everyone from security people and groundskeepers to executives welcomed him like visiting royalty.
“I just always wanted people to see the true inner personality, and that I’m a loving and caring person,” Marshall said. “I’m a dad, and it’s important to show that kind of responsibility and caring to everybody. That’s just how I am.”
Just be careful if you get near his goal or his dinner plate.
Dave Boling: 253-597-8440