By Jason Davis – WASHINGTON, DC (April 30, 2021) US soccer player – Just over six years ago, Jesse Marsch was an unemployed soccer coach. After serving as the first MLS boss of the Montreal Impact, Marsch was a young coach with good representation but little profile. There was no guarantee that he would have a path to success in Major League Soccer, let alone one that would lead him to a Champions League-level club in one of the best leagues in the world. However, six years later, he’s exactly where he is.
RB Leipzig, which currently occupies 2nd place in the German Bundesliga and is aiming for another trip to the group stage of the Champions League for the 2021/22 season, announced on Thursday that Marsch will replace Julian Nagelsmann as coach this summer. The move takes place after Nagelsmann’s announced departure from Leipzig to the brighter lights of FC Bayern Munich.
Marsch’s arrival in Germany is the culmination of a coaching trip that did not begin in New Jersey, but is directly linked to joining the Red Bull organization in 2015. Five European competitions came about through a combination of opportunity, effort and luck.
After playing soccer in Racine, Wisconsin in the 1980s, Marsch enrolled at Princeton University. The Ivy League gave March a chance to get an elite education and play soccer. At the time Marsch moved to New Jersey, Bob Bradley was the Tigers’ head coach. Marsch’s association with Bradley would last more than a decade, both during Marsch’s career and in the early years of his coaching career.
After Bradley joined DC United as an assistant at the Bruce Arena, the MLS founding club drafted March in the third round of the first college draft in 1996. Marsch then played under Bradley, the head coach, in Chicago and Chivas USA.
When his career ended in 2009, Marsch immediately switched to coaching. Bradley recognized Marsch’s coaching potential and told Princeton Alumni Weekly in 2019, “There are always people you say to yourself, ‘I’m pretty sure he’ll go ahead and become a coach,’ and Jesse would be one of those people. “
Bradley took his former general on as an assistant to the United States men’s national team. During these years he formulated Marsch’s ideas on team building and tactics, which he regularly expresses through a consistent media presence. Marsch is known to make himself available for interviews with branches in Europe and the US, an approach that has helped build his reputation as an aspiring coach. Marsch didn’t get a chance to coach at RB Leipzig because he conducts dedicated interviews, but dedicated interviews have helped him become a viable candidate for the job.
After a single year as the head coach of the Montreal Impact expansion, Marsch was unemployed. It wasn’t until two and a half years later that he got his next shot as head coach in the MLS. This step set him on the path to making history as an American coach in Europe.
Given his success, it’s easy to forget that when he arrived in January 2015, Marsch was not wanted by Red Bull believers. New York won a Supporters’ Shield in 2013 and reached the final of the Eastern Conference a year later among the beloved MetroStars / Red Bull played legend Mike Petke. When sporting director Ali Curtis fired the Long Island-born man and appointed Marsch as head coach, the Red Bulls experienced a riot.
Even if the fans had many reasons to be annoyed about the way Petke was fired, they quickly recognized Marsch’s talent as a coach. In Harrison, Marsch took his opportunity at MLS and the Red Bull organization to give a young American coach an unprecedented leap across the Atlantic.
March brought the club a second Supporters Shield in his freshman year and advanced to the Eastern Conference finals. In 2016, New York took 1st place in the east. 2017 was a step backwards with a 6th place. In 2018 the Red Bulls got off to a quick start and finished 3rd overall in the MLS when Marsch stepped down to take on an assistant role at RB Leipzig.
The step makes sense in retrospect and even then had its own logic. However, it is not often that a coach leaves a club in the middle of a promising season to take on a subordinate position elsewhere. The decision already looked risky in 2018. If Marsch’s German training wasn’t taken, or if the Red Bull organization didn’t have a natural landing place for him, he could return to the US to take the available job.
Of course that didn’t happen. Marsch’s stay in Leipzig in collaboration with the architect of the Red Bull philosophy, Ralf Rangnick, led directly to a move to Red Bull Salzburg in Austria. By then, Marsch had the required trainer license. He competed against a championship-caliber club in a second-rate European competition and looked like an audition for Marsch.
Marsch gained notoriety for his mid-term interview during a 2019 Champions League group stage match against Liverpool, a rousing speech that mixed English with Marsch’s recently acquired German. While Marsch himself confessed that he was embarrassed by the video, the passion on display only inspired the charismatic American from the European football world.
With an Austrian Bundesliga title and another still possible this season, Marsch’s next step was just a matter of timing. RB Leipzig was the natural next step, but the job had to be open to the American to get his shot.
The series of events that led to this moment began with Jürgen Löw’s decision to resign as a German coach after the European Championship this summer. Bayern Munich coach Hansi Flick asked to break his contract with the Bavarian powerhouse in order to take over Löw, which opened the most coveted coaching job in Germany. Bayern took a close look at the 33-year-old Wunderkind manager at RB Leipzig, Julian Nagelsmann, which angered Leipzig but forced them to let Nagelsmann go.
March will come under pressure. RB Leipzig expects to compete with Bayern Munich for national honors. The Champions League is the last eight or broke. That’s the job.
Using the Red Bull path and thriving at every stop along the way, the former MLS midfielder who has never played outside of his home country has earned the right to prove himself at the highest level.
Six years ago, Jesse Marsch was an unemployed soccer coach. Now he has signed a two-year contract with a club in the elite competitions of European football.
Jason Davis is the founder of MatchFitUSA.com and the host of The United States of Soccer on SiriusXM. Contact him: firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter.
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Photo by Imago via ZUMA Press – ISIPhotos.com