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If you were to take a poll asking people who the best defenders in MLS are, the list would include each of the following names:
At least three of those names enjoyed career-type seasons while the fourth, Parkhurst, still played at a very high level. Needless to say, these four are easily among the Top 10 defenders in the league.
All four could be gone from MLS this winter.
With Marshall, Parkhurst and Boswell all out of contract, and Soumare drawing some serious interest from overseas, we could have an exodus of top defensive talent like we have never seen before.
Parkhurst appears to be the first to have lined up a move, with the Washington Post suggesting that a deal with a Danish club has already been lined up. Parkhurst's departure has appeared inevitable since he failed to make a transfer move last winter, a reality the Revs must have accepted back when it lined up a move for Costa Rican defender Gabriel Badilla.
Marshall and Boswell are two of the more surprising free agents because the both entered 2008 with plenty of uncertainty surrounding their futures. Marshall was coming off a lost season due to concussions while Boswell was coming off a terrible year at D.C. United that saw him go from 2007 MLS defender of the year to benchwarmer. All Boswell did was get traded to Houston, where he served as the anchor on the stingiest defense in the league. All Marshall did was put together a dream season that saw him win MLS defender of the year and his team, the Columbus Crew, win the MLS Cup title.
The Crew has been working hard to re-sign Marshall, but the allure if big bucks abroad could be too tough to pass up. Boswell seems even less likely to return to the Dynamo, as sources tell me that offers from some quality leagues have already come in.
That leaves us with Soumare, whose second season in MLS was good enough to earn him MLS Best XI honors. It is no surprise that interest has come in for Soumare considering he's a 6-foot-4 beast of a center back who just turned 23 last month and who just happens to hold a French passport. Soumare's team, the Chicago Fire, is wary enough of his impending departure that it has already begun making inquiries with other teams about trading for potential starting central defenders.
What does the potential departure of this defensive quartet mean for MLS? It will certainly make scoring goals a bit easier in 2009, but it will also put more pressure on the league's top young defensive prospects to emerge. First-round pick Andy Iro would be a natural replacement for Marshall, though he is still a raw prospect. The Fire could turn to young Paraguayan defender Lider Marmol, who the club is actually still high on despite his lack of playing time in 2008. Houston would need Patrick Ianni to mature into the player some thought he could be as a one-time U.S. Olympic team prospect.
As a league, MLS will certainly look to replenish the talent pool in what is expected to be a deep 2009 MLS Draft (assuming most of the top underclassmen prospects sign with the league). With Wake Forest central defender Ike Opara and Maryland central defender Omar Gonzalez at the top of Major League Soccer's wish list of potential defensive Generation adidas signings, MLS could have some impact rookie defenders stepping in like MLS rookie of the year Sean Franklin did in 2008.
Ultimately though, the reason for this exodus falls on the inconvenient truth that the MLS salary structure is too small for teams to afford high-priced defenders. There are exceptions, like Jimmy Conrad, but in general defenders find it difficult to get the contracts they desire or deserve, and will more often than not simply play out their initial MLS contracts with an eye toward a bigger European payday. It happened with Carlos Bocanegra, Danny Califf, Clarence Goodson and now could very well happen with the three out-of-contract defenders listed above.
What do you think of the potential departure of the four defenders listed above? Do you see any of them staying in MLS in 2009? Do you think their teams can replace them?
Share your thoughts below.