Jesse Marsch was considered the next in line for whatever coaching position opened. What was a shock was where he landed. The first and only season Marsch coached a Major League Soccer franchise was in 2012 during the Montreal Impact’s expansion season. Three years in MLS seems like a whole different era, not from the play on the field but the mechanics of the clubs.
After his time in Montreal until his hiring at the New York Red Bulls, Marsch has been visible around MLS as an analyst for the league during the World Cup and playoffs. Marsch displayed his ability to breakdown matches for the novice and win over the media. He is articulate, energetic and has the know-how to work a touchscreen on camera, but what is he like as a coach?
For the last two seasons Marsch returned to his alma mater, Princeton University, as a volunteer associate coach. As a player with Princeton, Marsch played under Bob Bradley and finished his collegiate career in 1995 by earning All-American honors with a 16-goal season. This connection with Bob Bradley would follow him throughout his playing and coaching career.
DC United drafted Marsch with the first pick in Round 3 of the inaugural MLS College Draft in 1996. The assistant coach of DCU was Bradley. As soon as Bradley became the head coach of the expansion side and eventual 1998 double winning Chicago Fire, Marsch was traded from DCU. The break in the chain occurred when Bradley coached the New York Metro Stars and Marsch remained in Chicago. When Bradley joined Chivas USA a trade was made to bring Marsch to LA. After retiring in 2009 he linked up with Bradley for the final time as an assistant coach of the US Men’s National Team during the 2010 World Cup until he became the coach of the Impact in 2011.
Princeton Men’s soccer head coach Jim Barlow describes Marsch’s position with the program as the second assistant coach. Marsch with the other assistants, Tom Moffat and former MLS player Steve Totten, shared the responsibilities in training. The former MLS coach and assistant on a World Cup squad did the work of a college assistant climbing the ladder. Barlow feels Marsch’s willingness to be a part of practice was invaluable to the program. He connected with players and jumped into practices, competing as one of the best players on the field. Marsch was not above a role as an assistant at a college, but embraced the opportunity and used it to help his alma mater and sharpen his coaching ability.
His ability to reach young players and the willingness to teach will be an asset to the Red Bulls as the departure of Thierry Henry and Jamison Olave, and the questions regarding Tim Cahill’s status with the team means greater responsibilities for young players. Even as the assistant coach with the USMNT, Barlow then the U-15 Boys Coach remembers Marsch involved in trainings. “Jesse would come out to some of our youth national team camps,” said Barlow. “I would see him for years working with younger players. And he has a really good way of interacting with them and connecting with them. His energy and his passion to start off is really contagious. The younger guys really feed off that and see how much it matters to him.”
Energy was a buzzword in the Red Bulls conference call to announce Marsch as the head coach. During the call Marsch described the team’s style under him:
“To get quickly and briefly into the playing style, this is an energy drink. And from the beginning, it’s been clear that Red Bull, as much as there have been some talented teams here and I think there has been success, moving forward, I think they want to honor playing a more dynamic and up-tempo game and incorporating more young players and now, having a new direction.”
The Bob Bradley World Cup team would not be described as high-tempo and high energy. The Princeton team, however, is a team that wants to press and play at a high tempo. The college game is generally a fast-paced game that relies on physicality and using the high-press to create quick transitions to get behind the backline. Think of Sporting Kansas City, Portland during Caleb Porter’s first season, and the Chilean National Team during the World Cup. It would be a different look to the Red Bulls than under former Head Coach Mike Petke, however with the current roster it is not a far-fetched concept. The question with this style is always, do the players have the legs to press 90 minutes.
Thinking of ways to evolve the game is a part of Marsch’s coaching philosophy according to Barlow. During training Marsch broke down larger concepts such as spacing and first looks into attacks. Repeatedly Barlow praised Marsch’s ability to teach, communicate with players and his attention to little details that will gain him an edge. Over Petke’s two seasons with Red Bull, issues arose from his inability to define roles for players and explain what he wanted.
This issue regarding Petke’s communication with players was not addressed by Red Bull’s Sporting Director Ali Curtis. Rather Curtis focused part of his argument to change coaches as his desire to have an analytically driven club. Due to the lack of resources in the college game, statistical analysis for the vast majority of the country’s programs is nonexistent. Possession time and percentage is not measured. If you are looking for evidence of Marsch’s ability to implement statistical analysis it would not come from his time at Princeton. Barlow, however, said he believe Marsch’s curiosity of the game would drive him in that direction.
“He was incredibly open to sharing his ideas and opinions,” explained Barlow. “He was great to have around because he has very strong opinions and they’re based on what he’s seeing and he sees a lot of little details. He supports his arguments. When he makes his arguments for it he has a reason for it. It lead to some really long health discussions about our team, and about our training, and about our lineup, and our formation.”
Montreal was not an easy environment to coach at in hindsight, given four coaching changes in the course of four seasons. With New York he comes in as the Sporting Director’s choice, despite the reports the Curtis first approached the greatest coach in league/ US Soccer history Bruce Arena, and the two best young coaches in MLS Caleb Porter and Gregg Berhalter. The league sponsored media at MLS will have his back as a former colleague. The local media, which has never influenced NYC area soccer clubs, and the fans will be significantly more of a challenge. Nevertheless Barlow is confident in Marsch for the job. “He’s good at being able to be focused at the job he wants to do and on his vision,” said Barlow. “And to try and make sure he’s able to keep focus on coaching the team. Putting the team together. Getting to play as well as they can.”
“He’s really a coach. He wants to coach at a high level. He’s been really, really dying to get back into MLS and I think he’s been waiting two years for an opportunity to get back into it. And I think he’s going to take it and run with it.”