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Thursday, March 23, 2023

What went wrong for Jesse Marsch at Leeds United, and what’s next for him?

Even after watching Leeds United lose to Nottingham Forest, Jesse Marsch was positive about his team’s future. “I have to find a way of turning good performances more into winning because that’s exactly where we are and have been for a little while,” he said. “That is the last step for the potential of where we need to be at.”

Unfortunately for Marsch, he wasn’t given the time to take that last step, with the American coach dismissed by the Elland Road club on Monday. Leeds United are above the Premier League’s relegation zone on goal difference alone and the club clearly felt they had to act before their situation grew even more perilous.

Marsch is right that Leeds played some good soccer under his stewardship. Even against Nottingham Forest, his final match in charge, Leeds started well and were sucker-punched as they conceded the only goal of the match from their opponents’ first genuine attack. Leeds might even have been the better team over the balance of the full 90 minutes.

On the basis of Expected Goals (xG), Leeds are sitting 12th in the Premier League, illustrating how many high quality opportunities they have created this season. The Whites have been made to pay for poor finishing in front of goal, underlined by the way Leeds failed to find the back of the net in Marsch’s final game at the helm.

Ultimately, Marsch paid the price for his inability to translate possession and opportunities into goals. The cruelty of the timing of his dismissal is that the defeat to Forest saw him integrate January signings Georginio Rutter and Weston McKennie, two players who could help address this, off the bench. The new signings came too late for Marsch.

Now that he is out of work again, Marsch will be the subject of much discussion in relation to the vacant US men’s national team head coach job. Despite failing at RB Leipzig and Leeds United, the 49-year-old is widely seen as the best American coach working in soccer at this moment in time and is surely of interest to US Soccer as they look for a new figure to succeed Gregg Berhalter.

There is good reason to believe Marsch would be a good fit for the current USMNT squad. His Red Bull style of soccer would make good use of players like Christian Pulisic and Yunus Musah, who are most effective when they have space to burst into in quick transition. Berhalter wanted the USMNT to play a possession-based game, but Marsch could shift the team into something more energetic.

While Marsch has previously dismissed the notion of moving into international management at this stage of his career, he has expressed excitement at the opportunity in front of the USMNT. The 49-year-old was clearly focused on making things work at Elland Road. Now that he has been pushed out, he might reassess his options.

“We all want to see the team do really well now,” Marsch wrote in a column before the 2022 World Cup, “but everyone back home is looking at 2026 and imagining what this can really become when the World Cup comes back to the US. It’s a foolish thing to even say out loud, but can we be contenders at home? To even say that out loud is ridiculous. But we do think this is a golden generation of players.”

Marsch could be the head coach to lead that golden generation into the 2026 World Cup, which will be held on home soil between the US, Canada and Mexico. He has already worked with several of the players within the squad and his appointment would signal the intention to evolve the playing style and ideology of the team. 

Of course, Marsch might wish to stay in club soccer due to the hands-on nature of the game. International management would see him go months without working with players on the pitch, which might not suit a character with such natural intensity. Only Marsch himself will be able to judge whether or not he has the temperament to be an international manager.

Job offers will come Marsch’s way. His Red Bull Salzburg team were an impressive outfit and so suitors will call the American should he hang by the phone long enough. However, his country’s call might be too difficult to ignore. Just because Marsch wasn’t able to achieve his vision at Leeds United doesn’t mean he couldn’t help the USMNT’s golden generation fulfill its potential.

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