May 28th, 2024

Jesse Marsch takes the long road to coaching the Canadian men’s soccer team

By Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press on May 14, 2024.

Leeds United's head coach Jesse Marsch celebrates at the end of the English Premier League soccer match between Leeds United and Everton, at Elland Road Stadium in Leeds, England on August 30, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Jon Super

Jesse Marsch’s roots are in Racine, Wis., on the shore of Lake Michigan between Milwaukee and Chicago.

Thanks to a pilot project, the city’s public schools were organized so kids from different socio-economic and racial backgrounds were evenly distributed.

“What it meant was growing up I had friends from all kinds of different places and different kinds of backgrounds,” said Marsch, Canada’s newly appointed men’s soccer coach.

“We played all kinds of sports. And soccer was one of them,” he added. “And even when I went, at five years old, to tell my parents I wanted to play soccer, both my parents were like ‘What’s that?’

“To think that chasing that ball around has led me on the life that I’ve had is an incredible statement.”

Marsch, whose father spent 32 years working on an assembly line in a tractor factory, hasn’t stopped moving since.

After attending Princeton, he played 14 MLS seasons for D.C. United, the Chicago Fire and Chivas USA and won two caps for the United States.

He played under Bob Bradley on a Chicago team that won the MLS Cup and U.S. Open Cup in 1998.

The coaching tree from that team is impressive. Bradley’s match-day squad for the 1998 MLS Cup final included Marsch, Chris Armas, Frank Klopas, Tom Soehn, Josh Wolff, Zach Thornton, C.J. Brown, Lubos Kubik, Francis Okaroh, Piotr Nowak and Ante Razov, who all went on to coach.

“Bob’s intensity catches everybody a little bit off-guard,” Marsch said with a laugh. “But it also is infectious. You can’t help but be driven by his desire to be his best – and then in turn his desire to want you to be at your best. And I’ve learned that and taken that with me, I think maybe more than anything.

“We have different ideas of football. We have different personalities. But I think our drive to get the most of our players and our teams that’s what I learned from him.”

Marsch has coached club football at the highest level in England (Leeds United), Austria (Red Bull Salzburg), Germany (RB Leipzig) and North America (Montreal, New York Red Bulls). He was an assistant to Bradley on the U.S. team that reached the final 16 of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

Marsch has coached against the likes of Diego Simeone, Hansi Flick, Juergen Klopp, Antonio Conte and Pep Guardiola. And succeeded marquee managers like Julian Nagelsmann (RB Leipzig), Marcelo Bielsa (Leeds) and John Herdman.

Growing up, his favourite football players were Diego Maradona, Paolo Maldini and Rudi Voeller. Gardening is one of his relaxations.

Now 50, he’s been to 80 countries and is looking forward to cracking the 100 mark.

“My life quest is about people and cultures and travel and experiences,” he said.

After leaving the Montreal Impact (now CF Montreal) after the club’s inaugural 2012 MLS campaign, he took his family on a round-the-world trip.

The Marsch family is still global. His wife Kim and their three children now have Italian citizenship and the family has a home in Tuscany.

His daughter, the oldest, just graduated from the University of Glasgow. One son is attending school in Edinburgh while another attends boarding school in Leeds.

His daughter learned French during the family’s time in Montreal. His two sons are fluent in German.

“They’ve been on this journey and adventure with me,” Marsch said. “My family, it hasn’t always been easy on them but they’ve engaged in it fully. And I think we’ve been rewarded beyond belief.”

Marsch himself is fluent in German, is learning Italian and has some Spanish and French.

Marsch will likely continue to spend time in Europe when not in Canada, tracking Canadian players wherever they may be “so that every time you get together, you’re clear with where they’re at physically, mentally.”

He says his strengths include his “ability to relate with people and challenge them to be at their best.”

“You can say a lot of things about me as a manager and as a person, but the one thing I think I can hang my hat on is my teams play hard. They give everything they have to each other and they know the value of that.”

“I think (the Canadian men) already have that at a high level,” he added. “It will be about my ability to challenge them to do even more.”

Marsch knows that Canada Soccer has challenges, from a battered bottom line to a long-running labour dispute with its national teams. He says he did his due diligence.

“As much as it was an interview for me, I was also interviewing them,” he said. “That’s the reality.”

He has faith in Kevin Blue, the governing body’s new CEO and general secretary.

Marsch had been linked to other high-profile jobs, including England’s Leicester City and Southampton.

“Even publicly it’s known that I’ve said no to some big opportunities and it was all because I didn’t feel the full connection and I wasn’t fully inspired enough to take on the role. And this was different. This captured my interest – and it was largely because of Kevin.”

Blue “believes in his power to change,” says Marsch. “His intellectual capacity and his professional expertise is better than any business sports professional I’ve seen.”

“So he was very clear with me that they had a lot of work to do but that they’ve made major progress,” Marsch added. “And all the homework that I did led me to also hear and see that.”

Marsch’s first Canada camp will be in Europe ahead of friendlies June 6 and 9 against the seventh-ranked Netherlands and No. 2 France respectively. Copa America kicks off June 20 with the 49th-ranked Canadians taking on No. 1 Argentina.

Follow @NeilMDavidson on X platform, formerly known as Twitter

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 14, 2024

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