Jesse Marsch as new USMNT coach? Why all sides should steer clear from 'obvious' marriage
The U.S. men's national team's most obvious coaching candidate is suddenly unemployed. It happened on Monday, just one day after a catastrophic 1-0 loss to Nottingham Forest. That loss, as it turns out, was the final straw for Leeds United, who called time on the Jesse Marsch era by dismissing the American head coach.
And it probably was time. Leeds were without a win in seven games, pushing them further and further toward the relegation zone. The fans were starting to fall out of love with the American boss, and when that happens, it's only a matter of time before the axe falls.
So Marsch is unemployed and the USMNT needs a head coach. It's a marriage that has been preordained for so, so long. American soccer's most famous coach is now free to take over a national team set to host a historic World Cup on home soil.
But should he do it? And, on the flip side, should the USMNT want him?
Those will be questions that need to be answered in the coming months. As things stand, U.S. Soccer will not make a coaching hire until they first bring in a sporting director. That will take time, and offers all involved an opportunity to think over the pros and cons of this potential union.
Despite the obviousness of it all, there are certainly some cons that could prevent it from happening.
On the one hand, it does seem like a match made in heaven. Marsch has coached at a level that no other American has. He has experience with the players and knows the intricacies of U.S. Soccer that have been unceremoniously thrust into the forefront in recent months. In so many ways, he fits the bill for a federation that has prioritized English-speaking coaches with a connection to American soccer.
But both sides need to give a deeper look at this and, if they do, they'll need to make some difficult choices.
On Marsch's side, the allure of coaching at a World Cup on home soil is obvious, but there are some strong negatives that come with coaching on the international level.
Some would say national team jobs can be boring. They're generally pretty hands-off, very dependent on scouting and roster decisions, and provide little time to actually build an on-field identity. You only work with players for a few weeks out of a year, which is a massive change for a coach so used to the club level, and would be a huge hurdle for a coach like Marsch, who is - despite his reputation in England as a Ted Lasso clone - a coach whose identity is so focused on tactics.
The USMNT playing in the 2024 Copa America is a saving grace, giving them a major tournament to build around, but with no World Cup qualifiers on the horizon and few big teams available for friendlies these days, there aren't that many big moments to look forward to over the next three years.
For many club coaches, that would be enough to give them pause, despite the excitement of managing a talented player pool in a historic World Cup. For Marsch, though, there's an added layer.
Since he first left the New York Red Bulls to go to Europe, Marsch has stated his intention of coaching at the highest level, breaking glass ceilings for other Americans in the process. You can certainly argue that he's succeeded, having managed top teams in both Germany and England while having also earned experience in the Champions League.
But you could also argue that Marsch has more work to do, not just to build the reputation of American coaches but rebuild his own.
His tenure at Leeds should be looked at more favorably than it will be. Following the controversial departure of club legend Marcelo Bielsa, Marsch helped the club survive what looked like a guaranteed relegation in his first season before seeing the club sell several key players. Leeds invested in January, but it was too little too late for Marsch to save his job.
With his dismissal, though, it's now two jobs at two top clubs lasting less than one full year. His reputation has, no doubt, taken a hit, and it'll take some time and some work to get a chance at a job at the caliber of Leeds or RB Leipzig again.
Heading back to the U.S. would do little to change the perception of him, and there's a very real possibility that if Marsch takes the national team job, that door to Europe may be closed forever.
Marsch's best path toward the top of European soccer, most likely, is remaining there and clawing his way back up. Whether that's in a smaller league like the Austrian Bundesliga, where he found so much success with Red Bull Salzburg, or with a lower-level job in a bigger country, Marsch's European prospects likely depend on him proving once again that he can win at that level.
Now, after his experience at Leeds, Marsch could no doubt decide to be done with all of that. He could take the USMNT job for a few years and then reassess by either working his way back through Europe or by staying home in MLS. However, Marsch's coaching future will almost certainly be determined by what he does next and, barring a miracle run at the World Cup, the USMNT job probably isn't the one to push him back up the European ladder.
All of this, too, is said with the assumption that U.S. Soccer would just hand Marsch the job, which is a big one. Marsch's resume doesn't look as bright as it did just a few months ago.
Marsch's pressing style didn't work at Leeds, just as it didn't really work in Leipzig. Is there reason to believe it would work with this player pool at the international level? Is there a reason to believe it works at all anymore? Leipzig have themselves shied away from it a bit, and the innovator of it all, Ralf Rangnick, recently met his own harsh reality check at Manchester United.
To put it simply, Marsch would certainly need to change how he does things in order to adapt to the international level. The USMNT could make some form of his system work, but it would need major tweaks. There is the flip side to that which asks what Marsch could do with three consecutive years and no relegation threat but it's all so unknown.
Which is why, for a USMNT with eyes on the semifinals of the World Cup, the best route may just be to go with someone who has more international experience. There aren't many of those coaches out there, to be fair, but they'll all be worth pursuing.
U.S. Soccer has time to figure this all out, and whoever is brought in as sporting director will have a big decision on their hands. Marsch, too, has a big decision when it comes to deciding what next to do with his career.
In some ways, a partnership between Marsch and the USMNT may still be a match made in heaven but, if this does end up happening, both sides will need to make some sacrifices for it to work.
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