Timing is everything in every way. That is especially true in the case of Jesse Marsch and the US Soccer Federation.
Marsch was fired as manager of Leeds United on Monday, following a run of just two wins in his past 18 Premier League matches. With the managerial post for the US men’s national team vacant, it would seem that Marsch’s availability is coming at the right time.
But while it’s perfect for Marsch, it isn’t necessarily perfect for US Soccer.
The USSF currently finds itself without two of its more senior sporting executives, with sporting director Earnie Stewart set to depart for a similar role at PSV Eindhoven in a little more than a week, and USMNT GM Brian McBride already gone. Sports consulting firm Sportsology has been brought in by USSF president Cindy Parlow Cone and CEO JT Batson to lead the search for both positions.
While Cone said she hopes to have the sporting director position filled prior to the start of the Women’s World Cup in July, it might well be the “end of summer” before both positions are filled. That timing might not work in terms of capturing Marsch.
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To be clear, the USSF should cast as wide a net as possible in its search for the next USMNT manager. If it can attract a coaching whale like Jose Mourinho, then by all means it should explore that route, but at present, that is the stuff of dreams. More realistic candidates need to be identified, and that includes those born in this country.
Marsch’s candidacy certainly has its pros and cons. At present, he is the most experienced US candidate available, having coached with teams in Europe since 2018, the past four years of which were spent managing the likes of FC Salzburg, RB Leipzig and Leeds. That is a coaching résumé that is unmatched in US soccer circles.
While other managers such as Sporting Kansas City’s Peter Vermes have been at the job longer, their tenures have been spent entirely in MLS. The same is true of LA Galaxy manager Greg Vanney and the Philadelphia Union’s Jim Curtin.
LAFC’s Steve Cherundolo is another candidate, but he has just a solitary season managing a first-division first team — albeit a wildly successful one — under his belt. Former VfB Stuttgart manager Pellegrino Matarazzo is an interesting possibility given his American upbringing and Bundesliga experience.
But in terms of Marsch, the fact remains that his past two stints with Leipzig and Leeds ended with him not lasting even a year at either post, and while his spell in Salzburg was successful, recent results demand a closer look by those making the hiring decision. There are also questions about the methodology to which he is wedded, one that relies heavily on creating chaos via the press. Can Marsch adapt his approach to the international game, one in which the amount of time spent on the training ground is significantly less than at club level, and the best teams are adept at overcoming such a setup?
Former US midfielder Sacha Kljestan played under Marsch while with the New York Red Bulls from 2015 to 2017, and feels that Marsch is indeed committed to his beliefs.
“I think Jesse is very — I think ‘determined’ is a good word — in his belief in his system,” he told ESPN. “He doesn’t change himself or what he believes in. I think that’s a very admirable quality in a coach.”
But Kljestan added that this doesn’t mean Marsch can’t change on the fly.
“His philosophy doesn’t change, but tactically he can change things,” he said.
Kljestan recalled how New York mostly played 4-2-3-1 under Marsch, but the Red Bulls also played with three in the back at times during 2017, and with a 4-2-2-2 later in his career.
St. Louis City defender Tim Parker, who also played under Marsch in New York, remembers a system that was more rigid.
“There’s not a whole lot of flexibility, to be honest,” Parker told ESPN. “The whole system is kind of made so that everyone’s on the same page all the time, and is supposed to make, obviously, the machine work properly. It’s like if everyone’s thinking the same thing, and has the same mentality, and has the same kind of approach to the game, then everyone should be able to click and be on the same page.”
Does that philosophy suit the US corps of attacking players? Given the relative youth of the side, Kljestan believes it can.
“He likes working with young guys because I think he believes he can get more out of them physically,” he said of Marsch. “So with the generation I see between the midfield of Weston McKennie, Yunus Musah and Tyler Adams, that should be there for the next four years. You got [Christian] Pulisic, [Giovanni] Try and [Timothy] Weah that should be there for four years, basically the whole team that I expect to be there in 2026 is between the ages of 22 and 26 right now, which is like the prime. So, yeah, I do think that group of players can fit well into his tactical ideas and philosophy.”
Parker notes that if Marsch does end up with the USMNT and implementing his system, it will take intense commitment from the players.
“In terms of his system and the way he wants that system to be run, I think it does require a complete buy-in mentality,” he said. “Especially when I played with him at the Red Bulls, that’s kind of how it was. It was almost like starting on a blank slate and forgetting what you knew and buying into what his methods were. But it brought us success when we were there , so when you’re able to reap the rewards of it, I think you’re able to see the success that you can have, so it makes that buying-in process much easier.”
The other fallout from Marsch’s firing is what it means for Leeds’ contingent of American players, one of whom — McKennie — has been with the club only a week. That will ultimately depend on who is hired to be Marsch’s replacement.
Adams has been widely hailed for his performances since arriving at Elland Road last summer, especially on the defensive side of the ball, but if the new manager opts for a more possession-based approach then Adams could find himself on the outs like he did at Leipzig. Brenden Aaronson’s lack of end product — one goal and two assists — could also put his position in the starting lineup under threat.
Ironically, the versatility in McKennie’s game — his box-to-box running, his ability on set pieces and his late runs into the box — bodes well in terms of him getting more playing time. So does the fact that Leeds director of football Victor Orta has been a longtime admirer of his. Orta also negotiated the deal that brought Aaronson to West Yorkshire prior to Marsch’s arrival.
With the transfer window closed, though, whoever the new manager is will have to make do with what he has. With the club’s Premier League survival at stake, that would seem to preclude making wholesale changes.
As for Marsch, the coming months will determine the extent to which his respective goals will line up with those of the USSF.