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The MLS Hot Stove: Exodus of top defenders looming

Chad Marshall 1 ( 

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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:

  • Chad Marshall

  • Michael Parkhurst

  • Bakary Soumare

  • Bobby Boswell

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.


  1. MAtt you are an idiot. What player who couldn’t start in the MLS is flourishing in EUrope. I know alot of players who were the best in the mls who cant get timein europe though. And by the way their is no way the lower clubs are lower than mls standdars. If you are in MLS you need to first beat teams from Panama, T&T, Honduras, and maybe one day even Costa Rica before you start comparing the MLS to any European league.

  2. Problem is, the better MLS gets, and the more respect it gets, the more interest its players will garner overseas and the more quickly its top young players will leave.

    That will be the case until MLS finally gets the quality, cash, and respect to compete with the better-established leagues overseas.

    The other factor is parity–MLS won’t have one or two superclubs, so essentially the entire league has to gain quality.

  3. I have absolutely no problem paying higher prices for my season tickets if it means that the Dynamo were able to retain quality players and pay a salary comparable to what they could get elsewhere.

  4. The money varies but think 2-3 times what MLS would pay. Top defenders in MLS make 120-150K and in Scandanava it would be 200-400K depending on the league and added bonus’ such as an apartment, car, product endorcement and performance bonus.

  5. jpc

    I now see your point. I was just taken a back by that particular quoted line, and I’m also glad that you are not offended. It will take some time before MLS can keep those that want to stay here with competitive enough salaries. Until then, talent flight will be the norm.


    “Many were only benchwarmers in MLS but are starting in the second tier eurotrash leagues.”

    Many MLS fans want some respect, but respect is a two way thing. Did you really have to label those Scandinavian leagues as “eurotrash”? Let’s look at the mirror first before throwing those words and labeling other leagues. Better yet, leave the league bashing to the English, and let the world snicker at their claims.

  6. Swabb – Baky was but a rookie last season…. jozy broke out his 2nd season… and im sure we could find many many more examples….

    is woolard less experienced then baky?? yes, but i wouldnt be so crushed to have him in the CB if Baky is in fact traded… this is the NATURAL course of a lower league… standouts get bought out for clubs willing to dish more…. the MLS will CONTINUE to find quality players to step up… King has shown that even a rookie can step up into the ranks, and now he’s been given a senior roster spot from what he’s shown…

    lets calm down people…. we are acting as tho this has never happened before :-/

  7. Oh, and for all you College Soccer bashers…

    “Man, US colleges such!!! They don’t produce any talent at all!!!!’

    All of these guys went to college.

  8. Let’s see….

    MLS teams lose 5 or 6 million on average.

    Now we should pay triple the salaries to the same players to “keep the league strong”.

    I can just hear the fans….

    “Hey, I didn’t want to watch these players before, but now that they are being paid more, they are somehow better!!!”

    Guys, the US market for the product is small. That is why the players are paid so little. If there were 10 times more people watching, they could charge 10 times more and pay their players 10 times more.

    Its going to take time. Be glad that the US pipeline has improved so much that so many players are desired in European Leagues. A decade ago you could count on two hands the number of americans in Europe. Now theres over a hundred. Many were only benchwarmers in MLS but are starting in the second tier eurotrash leagues.

    (And no, I don’t think the Scandanavian leagues are better. They have the typical european differences in quality. Two or three elite teams that are better than MLS, two to four that are equal, and a half dozen below MLS standards)

    Yeah, raising salaries won’t affect attendance. It will just kill the league.

  9. This would be the greatest thing ever if Marshall and Parkhurst perform at a high levvel over seas no way could you leave them off the world cup team. what a great day for american soccer!!!!!!!I will not be happy until all 23 players play over in Europe like the Brazilians and Argentines.

  10. Soumare was one of the reasons I caught many MLS Fire games this season. He will soon be departing on the Generation Adidas tour in London and will inevitably be better exposed to international scouts. I just hope the Fire really try to keep him.

    During the Revs vs. Fire game at seasons end I was sitting with the rest of the avid Section 8 soccer hooligans and I quote the guy next to me “Soumare is awesome, he held my baby.” hahaha, he is well loved here in da Chi.

  11. Jonathan,

    I think you missed my point. I wasn’t speaking about players financial security. But, to your point (more of a backhanded remark actually, but that’s okay), of the four players mentioned, only Boswell isn’t making more than over 100 grand a year, so for the most part players who are talking about going abroad are not starving… But I do care about their financial situations, which is why I mentioned raising the salary cap, which I feel is necessary to keep these players here (i don’t blame them for leaving)… My larger point was about what’s good for the league, b/c at the end of the day what is good for the MLS is what will be good for American Soccer players and their financial statements.

  12. “BUT, there is no positive when these players go to lower level Euro leagues.”

    Players’ financial security are of no concern of course. In addition, ban those who leave the Americans who seek to skip MLS teams to go abroad. The professional Japanese baseball teams have the right idea all along. A 3 year ban should suffice.

  13. Aristotle

    The USL is better than MLS. MLS teams have brought shame to the league with their pathetic performances in the Champions League with the exception of Houston. Until the next cycle of the CL, USL teams are more respected in the region than MLS teams.


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