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Analyzing Jesse Marsch as a potential USMNT manager

Jesse Marsch is a popular pick to become the new USMNT manager, but should he be?

Accrington Stanley v Leeds United: Emirates FA Cup Fourth Round Photo by James Gill - Danehouse/Getty Images

Jesse Marsch is out as Leeds manager which means he’s presumably looking for a new job. This so happens to be at a time when the USMNT needs a new coach. In the past Jesse Marsch has said he would like to have that job. Of course, US Soccer needs to hire the person who will hire the new manager, so at this time there are a few steps that need to be taken for him to get to the job.

Marsch has reached the highest point of any American manager with experience in the Champions League, winning a double in a European top flight, and managing two clubs in top five leagues. Additionally, he was an assistant with Bob Bradley during the 2010 World Cup so at least has experience at the highest international level.

He isn’t Zinedine Zidane, but he has the best resume of any American manager who could be a candidate for the USMNT job. Marsch’s preferred playing style may also be a good fit for the USMNT. Most notably, this style involves pressing in the ever present Red Bulls style that has seen RB Leipzig become Bundesliga contenders and brought several MLS Supporters’ Shields to the New York Red Bulls.

Success in New York and Austria

After a decent year with the Montreal Impact in their 2012 expansion year, Marsch resigned and took his talents... nowhere, he just didn’t want to manage the Impact ever again. He resurfaced replacing the abruptly fired Mike Petke with NY Red Bulls in 2015 and established himself as a top manager in MLS by winning the Supporters’ Shield that year. Through three and a half seasons in New York, Marsch implemented a fast paced, high pressing style that wasn’t too concerned with possession and focused more on creating chances in transition.

Notably, he was able to achieve this while developing youth players and sending veterans on their way without hesitation. Marsch didn’t always have the most technically gifted players, but his system was so effective at creating chaos leading to chances that it wasn’t a factor. While NYRB won the Supporters’ Shield in 2015 and then again in 2018, though after he had left to be an assistant at RB Leipzig that summer, the team never advanced past the Eastern Conference Finals under Marsch. In the playoffs, teams with more technically gifted players like Federico Higuain, Sebastian Giovinco, Michael Bradley, and Ignacio Piatti helped their clubs overcome the Red Bulls’ system.

He left NYRB after three and a half seasons to be an assistant at RB Leipzig in 2018 and the next season took over as manager of Red Bull Salzburg from 2019-2021. There he led the team to two consecutive doubles. In European competition, his club performed about as expected beating Genk twice and getting a surprise draw to Napoli away in the 2019-2020 Champions League while losing their remaining matches. After being transferred to the Europa League the team fell to Frankfurt. The following season, Salzburg won and drew against Lokomotiv Moscow, losing the rest of their matches before being transferred to the Europa League and being eliminated by Villarreal.

Failure in Germany and England

His time in Austria was impressive enough to get him a promotion to the Bundesliga for the 2021-2022 season where he took over RB Leipzig. Marsch went 7-4-6 and mutually parted ways with the club after a three game losing streak in late November-early December. Four of the losses came to teams Leipzig ultimately finished ahead of in the table. The team also went 1-1-3 in the Champions League under Marsch.

Marsch wasn’t out of work long and was hired by Leeds to replace Marcelo Bielsa in February of 2022. It was a big bucket to sit on and Marsch initially was up for the most immediate task: avoiding relegation. This wasn’t really an easy process and Leeds needed a bit of luck as the team stayed up by three points thanks to a goal in added time in the last game of the season.

The 2022-2023 season started off well with a week three victory against Chelsea. Leeds failed to win for the next eight weeks when they defeated Liverpool, followed by a win against Bournemouth. Things took a downturn again as the most recent seven games came without a win. That was enough for the Leeds brass to send Marsch packing.

Marsch’s fit with the USMNT

As a manager Marsch’s best attributes are implementing a cohesive style of soccer and motivating his players. His NSFW halftime speech in mixed German/English when he was with Salzburg against Liverpool is an example of this. He’s also been successful using what he has. NYRB never spent big while he was with the club and yet his teams were consistently among the best in the league. An aspect of his system is that it depends on athleticism, buy in, positional awareness, and the fitness needed to run and press for a full 90 minutes rather than relying on individual players with a high level of technical proficiency.

These aspects make him a good candidate for the USA job. While the American men have taken steps forward in terms of technical soccer ability, a consistently expressive style of play is not the norm for the squad. Self-belief, teamwork, and an immoderate amount of optimism are also qualities that Marsch brings as a manager.

That said, there are warning signs that Marsch might not be up to the task with his current tactical acumen. As mentioned above, NYRB had difficulty against technically talented players in elimination games, Salzburg was by far the most talented team in Austria and then performed as expected in Europe, while Leipzig struggled under Marsch and Leeds had some promising moments but largely floundered during his tenure. His time at Leipzig is fairly troublesome as he took a very talented team that finished 2nd in the Bundesliga the previous season to underperform and sit mid-table by the time he left the team.

It’s a fairly mixed bag, but the trend points to his system being flawed against higher levels of competition. A weakness Marsch seems to have as a manager is that he often doesn’t make the right adjustments and when Plan A doesn’t work Plan B seems to be Plan A But Harder. The USA showed during this most recent World Cup that tactical flexibility is important with the level of players on the roster and so far Marsch hasn’t shown an ability to make tactical adjustments very well.

Perhaps, Marsch will figure out how to do this better or the USA players will be at a much higher level in 2026 to really get his pressing style to work. For now it seems like he needs to address his weaknesses before showing he can get the most out of players against better competition and the USA would be better off looking elsewhere for a new manager.