Jesse Marsch living the [not so] American Dream
Background image: Werner100359, CC BY-SA 3.0
Based solely on Red Bull Salzburg’s Austrian Bundesliga play this season, you may form one of two opinions about their new manager, Jesse Marsch. Perfect after seven games while scoring 34 and shipping six, you might conclude he wasn’t half bad for an American or, given that he’s a Yank, assume predecessor Marco Rose beat the entire league into complete submission before leaving. It’s probably a little of both but their 6-2 victory over Belgian side KRC Genk last night in the Champions League gives observers ample reason to lean toward the former.
Already considered a promising manager when he took charge of Major League Soccer franchise Montreal Impact in 2012, he spent the next two years as an assistant at Princeton University. Nevertheless, NY Red Bulls were so impressed they endured the inevitable outrage from supporters when they sacked their coach of two years, Mike Petke, a native New Yorker who had won the Supporters Shield for best regular-season record and taken Red Bulls to the Eastern Conference final in his debut campaign, so that they could hire Marsch in 2015.
The new man calmed angry fans when he too won the Supporters Shield in his first season with the club but, like Petke before him, couldn’t get the side to the MLS Cup final. Midway through his third year, the team was contending for a third Shield in five years but Marsch shocked the locals by resigning. In a new twist on the cliché of club and manager parting ways by mutual consent, he transferred from one district office to another, becoming Ralf Rangnick’s assistant at RB Leipzig last term. He was being groomed for bigger things.
Similar to Jupp Heynckes at Bayern, Rangnick had agreed to manage the Bundesliga side for just the one season, bridging the gap between the departed Ralph Hasenhuttl and incoming Julian Nagelsmann. He delegated responsibility to Marsch who implemented a Wheel of Fortune-style punishment system, with players who broke team rules spinning the wheel to discover one form of making amends or another rather than paying a meaningless, pennies-on-the-euro fine. The only person caught in the scheme turned out to be Rangnick, for bringing his cell phone to the team dinner.
Marsch escaped political repercussions for shaming his superior to become Salzburg’s gaffer following Marco Rose’s summer departure. In 2017/18, Rose’s side remained unbeaten across all competitions longer than any top-flight club involved in European competition and made the Europa League. Over the course of the 2018/19 Austrian Bundesliga’s new 32-game regular season and playoff format, a system similar to the Scottish Premier League, Red Bull finished as champions for the sixth season running and tenth in 13, defeated only twice while scoring 79 goals and conceding 27.
Rose wasn’t the only person to leave Salzburg. Scoring leader Munas Dabbur and attacking-mid Hannes Wolf, who departed for Sevilla and RB Leipzig, were among 11 senior squad members to exit. Despite the heavy turnover, Marsch’s side is on pace to match Rose’s defensively while shattering 2018/19’s goal record. At their current rate, Salzburg will score 155 goals in the Bundesliga alone.
Like Rose, Marsch intends for his club to be more than big fish in a small pond. On Matchday One, he became the first American manager to win a Champions League game, doing so with an emphatic 6-2 victory over KRC Genk.
The Belgians aren’t Napoli or Liverpool and Marsch travels to Anfield in two weeks time to face the defending champions. The arc of his European career may begin to look more like David Wagner or Bob Bradley’s at that point. At the moment, however, he’s enjoying the game. Every spin of the wheel comes up goals.