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Vol. LXIV, No. 31
 
Wednesday, August 4, 2010
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IMMERSION TRAINING: Jesse Marsch helps run a training session for the U.S. men’s national soccer team as it went through its pre-World Cup camp at Princeton University this past May. Marsch, a former PU men’s soccer star, joined the U.S. team as an assistant coach earlier this year after retiring from Major League Soccer. Getting a trial by fire as he helped guide the U.S. team through its World Cup run proved to be an invaluable and memorable experience for Marsch.

PU Alum Marsch Gained Valuable Experience in Helping to Guide U.S. Soccer at World Cup

Bill Alden

Jesse Marsch has played in a lot of soccer games over the last 25 years, beginning as a youth star in Wisconsin in the 1980s before earning All-America honors at Princeton and then putting together a 14-year run in Major League Soccer.

But Marsch has seen more soccer this year in his role as assistant coach for the U.S. men’s national team than he had viewed in the last quarter century as he helped the squad gear up for the World Cup.

“I watched more games in the last six months than I had seen in my whole life,” said Marsch, 36, a 1996 PU alum who retired from Chivas USA of the MLS this past February.

“But that is good, you want to feel that way. You want to feel like you are well prepared. You also need to be able to regurgitate that information and present it to the players so they will understand it and not be overwhelmed.”

Leaving no stone unturned helped the U.S. produce a spirited display in South Africa as it finished in first place in Group C on the way to the final 16 before losing 2-1 in extra time to Ghana to get eliminated from the competition.

In reflecting on the squad’s effort, Marsch was proud of the way the team utilized the intense preparation.

“We used every bit of energy in every category to get out of the group stage; we emptied our tank in every game,” said Marsch.

“Afterward, we were so disappointed. But after a few days, you couldn’t help but be proud of what we did. The group was great; they really came together.”

In Marsch’s view, the team’s chemistry started to take form during its training camp at Princeton in mid-May.

“We felt pretty good about the guys; there was a good feeling with good commitment and good energy,” said Marsch, who relished his Princeton homecoming, spending time with old friends after training sessions.

“Once the World Cup starts and games are coming at you, things can change. But we felt early on that something was there.”

Marsch credited U.S. head coach Bob Bradley, a former Princeton men’s soccer star and coach, with creating good team karma heading into the competition.

“We had Bill Russell talk to us and we had an army pilot from Black Hawk Down come in,” recalled Marsch.

“We watched videos of different teams; there was good group dynamics. Bob is so good at every aspect of his job and sees so much that he could do the job on his own. He appreciates other people’s opinions. He thinks about things from all angles.”

The staff continued to look at things from all angles upon the team’s arrival in South Africa.

“We had long days, there was not a lot of free time,” said Marsch. “I ended up not having my family come over because I could see how that was going to be. We were going to games, editing, scouting, and preparing for games. We were in breakfast by 8. We would spend morning breaking down film and talking to players. We would train in the afternoon. The dinners lasted two hours; we talked about everything. There was always something to keep busy.”

In the team’s opening game 1-1 draw with England, Marsch saw the product of that hard work.

“There were nerves but there was also a lot of excitement,” recalled Marsch. “A lot of our guys play in England so they were excited to play those guys. We got down early but we got a great response. In the second half, England may have had the ball more but we had some good chances. We did the things we had talked about. We took care of the things we had seen in them; we had talked about Wayne Rooney, Frank Lampard, and Steven Gerrard.”

The U.S. squad made the most of its second chances in its next World Cup encounter as it fought back from a 2-0 halftime deficit to Slovenia to pull out a 2-2 tie.

“At halftime, there was a sense that this game was still there for the taking; Bob was adamant about that,” said Marsch. “As soon as we got an early goal, it would be a different game. That second half was about belief, energy and fitness. We really pushed hard; we had subs come in that gave us energy.”

In the final game of pool play, Landon Donovan supplied the energy as his late goal helped the U.S. edge Algeria 1-0 to win the group and clinch its spot in the knockout round.

“It has gotten to the point where when the game opens up, you know that Landon is going to be dangerous,” said Marsch. “He is a great finisher; he has always been a great finisher. It is a natural gift and not a lot of U.S. players have it.”

The team’s dramatic finish helped it make a special new fan as former President Clinton was on hand and joined in the post-game celebration.

“We met with him in the White House and you could see that he was trying to figure out what this was all about,” said Marsch.

“When he came down to the locker room, he was almost speechless. He was overjoyed by the experience; he really became a fan. The whole locker room was chanting “USA, USA” after he spoke. It was a great moment.”

Marsch was looking forward to more great moments in the knockout stage as the U.S. looked to build on the momentum from the victory over Algeria.

“We were optimistic; winning the group puts you in a good position,” said Marsch. “It was a reasonable draw but it is important to remember that was just our fifth win in the World Cup. We are still a developing soccer nation; we knew wins were not going to be easy to come by.”

The Round of 16 clash with Ghana proved to be difficult as the U.S. fell 2-1 in extra time.

“Ghana had a little more energy than we did,” said Marsch, noting that Ghana was able to go on cruise control in the second half of its last pool game as its place in the knockout round was set.

“In the second half, once we got the goal, we still felt like we could win. Once we went down in extra time, we didn’t have anywhere to turn. We used the last sub on Hercules Gomez. It was up to the guys on the field and I give them a lot of credit. They fought hard, they gave everything for each other.”

For Marsch, giving everything he had to help the U.S. put up such a good fight in the World Cup has been an invaluable learning experience.

“This is about relationships; the relationships have become more complex and deeper,” said Marsch, who will be back on the pitch with the U.S. squad next week as it prepares for an August 10 friendly match against Brazil at the New Meadowlands Stadium in East Rutherford.

“It was great seeking the level of the game at its highest and what it takes for the guys to get ready. You learn about the tempo of the games and the tempo you have to have at practice. As much as you can learn by watching games on TV, and you can learn a lot, there is nothing like being immersed in the situation and learning what it takes to get the team to be the best it can be for that game.”

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