Jesse Marsch: Crossing Enemy Lines

Recently brought on as the Canadian men’s national team manager, can Jesse Marsch usher the nation into a new era?

Jesse Marsch has signed his contract to become the next manager of the Canadian men’s national team, and many Canadians are beyond ecstatic.

On paper, Marsch is the most decorated manager the CanMNT has had since Benito Floro. He also feels like a recruiting coup for an organization that has been in flux since the 2022 World Cup. In typical CONCACAF fashion, the hiring has been anything but straightforward, with multiple quirks and storylines that have been written before Marsch has even stepped foot on the touchline.

There are three key pieces in the Marsch story: the funding arrangement between the Canadian MLS clubs and the Canada Soccer Association, how Marsch seemed like the natural successor to Gregg Berhalter for the United States men’s national team, and finally, the task at hand for Marsch with a federation that has outgrown its infrastructure.

The MLS Connection


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As confirmed by the CSA, Marsch’s official title within the organization is MLS Canada Men’s national team head coach due to the three Canadian MLS clubs’ financial contributions allowing the CSA to afford the new manager. While having private donors is nothing new to sports in North America, as countless stadiums and training centers are named after sponsors at almost every level of sport, having an official job title sponsored by a league is a new frontier.

Countless fans and pundits have voiced their concerns with Marsch’s job title. The main issues targeted are professionalism from an optics perspective, and how these contributions will impact how the national teams are run from a player selection perspective.

Canada Soccer has been fighting an uphill battle in creating a program that befits a nation of its size. Now, with players such as Alphonso Davies and Jonathan David, the quality is there on the pitch, but off of the field, it has been quite amateurish, and placing “MLS” into the job title is a continued example of decision making that won’t inspire confidence. While hiring a manager of Marsch’s quality is a huge step forward for the program, goofing up his job title means it is more like two steps forward, one step back.

Additionally, one of the main issues with the Canadian men’s team and the youth teams in recent memory has been the reliance on players from MLS rosters and academies while ignoring players who chose different paths, such as smaller European academies or playing legitimate professional minutes at a younger age in the Canadian Premier League.

Now, will this narrative be reinforced, or will Marsch genuinely have the freedom to look at all options and select players based on merit and not just their affiliation to the three Canadian MLS clubs? Based on Marsch’s interviews since his appointment, he seems to be focused on expanding the football landscape in Canada — but we’ll see if those words are empty or not.

A Bubbling Rivalry

If you were a betting man and wanted to put money on Marsch becoming the manager of a CONCACAF national team, chances are you would’ve selected the United States.

After all, he is an ex-national team player (even if he only made two appearances), has arguably the best resume of any American coach ever, and has a great relationship with star midfielder Weston McKennie. He was tabbed as a favorite to nab the role during the U.S. Soccer Federation’s managerial search in the summer of 2023, only for Berhalter to ultimately be re-hired. Marsch said he “wasn’t treated very well” during the interview process, which has rekindled the narrative of a rivalry between the two American managers.

While serving as an analyst for CBS Sports, Marsch was critical of Berhalter’s selection and tactics, but that could be read as him just doing his job as a pundit, not a direct personal attack. Whether there actually is any animosity between Berhalter and Marsch, the idea of an embittered battle between the two makes for great television.

As a Canadian, this is something to get excited about, as Marsch will add fire to the Canada-U.S. rivalry — which, objectively, has been pretty lopsided.

Canada Soccer’s Future

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The Canadian Soccer Association has been something of a rollercoaster over the past few years. For those unfamiliar with the situation, the CSA has struggled mightily to keep up with the growing strength and popularity of the men’s and women’s national teams, which has led to financial issues and increased scrutiny of all decisions made by the organization.

Now, with the appointment of General Secretary Kevin Blue and the appointment of a real successor to John Herdman, the program is finally moving forward. These moves only solve some of the issues however, as cash flow problems go away over time, not overnight. After all, qualifying for the World Cup in 2022 was what caused so many issues with the federation, as they were unprepared for the financial burden and opportunity that a World Cup can bring to such a football-hungry nation.

With increased pressure to perform on the field, fans will expect more friendlies, more national team camps, and bigger results in tournaments like this summer’s upcoming Copa America and next year’s Gold Cup. All of that costs money, while not being highly profitable ventures.

On paper, this project is the type that Marsch would do well with, as his finest moments came as a manager in the Red Bull Group with Salzburg and Leipzig. These teams are both built around young talent that needed some refining and a system that allows them to express themselves while also displaying a high work rate.

However, he is coming off an unsuccessful spell with Leeds United, a club that has seen a lack of stability in recent years, especially compared to the mechanical structure of the RB Group. His struggles with Leeds put into question how he can handle a chaotic situation, something that he’ll almost certainly face with Canada.

The Canada project will mix both the RB and Leeds experiences, as there will be organizational instability but also a lot of potential with both the players that are currently in the program and the ones who are rising through the youth ranks. If it is true that Marsch succeeded in creating some stability at Leeds and can leverage his experience at RB Group, he could be the perfect manager in this phase of the CSA’s development. Otherwise, it could prove to be a costly mistake.

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