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Vol. LXIV, No. 24
 
Wednesday, June 16, 2010
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WORLD CLASS: U.S. men’s soccer national team assistant coach Jesse Marsch, right, races through a training run with the squad during their pre-World Cup training camp at Princeton University last month. Marsch, a PU men’s soccer star in the mid-1990s who earned All-American honors during his Tiger career, joined the U.S. team as an assistant coach earlier this year after retiring from Chivas USA of Major League Soccer.

Making Coaching Debut on World Cup Stage, PU Alum Marsch Assisting U.S. Men’s Soccer

Bill Alden

As the players on the United States men’s soccer national team practiced at their pre-World Cup training camp at Princeton University last month, they ended the daily sessions with timed runs around Myslik Field.

On several of the runs, former Princeton soccer star and current U.S. assistant coach, Jesse Marsch, jumped in and ran stride for stride with the likes of such American stars as Landon Donovan and Michael Bradley.

For Marsch, such hands-on activity exemplifies the role he has filled since joining the U.S. program earlier this year after retiring as a player after 14 seasons in Major League Soccer.

In reflecting on his duties in the U.S. set-up after a training session at Princeton, Marsch, 36, said he sees himself as a “bridge” to the players.

“I have relationships with a lot of these guys; whether from playing against them or playing with them,” said Marsch.

“There is a built-in trust already with me and a lot of the guys. I am trying to keep that trust going and just modify the relationship by facilitating good communication and good understanding. I am making sure that everyone is on the same page with Bob (U.S. head coach Bob Bradley) and what he is looking for.”

The relationship between Marsch and his college coach Bradley helped him land his current position with the U.S. squad.

“I saw Bob on a daily basis before I retired but we never spoke ever about the possibility of anything like this,” recalled Marsch, whose last MLS stop was with Chivas USA in Los Angeles and played for Bradley in prior stints with D.C. United and the Chicago Fire.

“When it was time to start figuring out what was next, we sat down and had a conversation. I think I sort of hinted at it but he picked up on it real quickly so I think it was in the back of both of our minds. We always worked well together, whether at Princeton or when I played for him in the MLS. I think we grew to understand and respect each other a lot.”

It did take Racine, Wisconsin native Marsch some time to understand Bradley upon arriving at Princeton in the fall of 1992.

“People who are friends joke that I am Bob’s son but the truth is when I first met Bob it was tough for me because he had messages that I hadn’t heard before,” recalled Marsch, who had 29 goals and 15 assists in his Princeton career on the way to the Final Four in 1993 and making All-American in 1995.

“Everyone told me I was a great player; no one told me that this is where I had deficiencies and I needed to be more of this kind of guy and a leader. He was the first guy to introduce all of this stuff to me; it was a hard relationship in the beginning. I didn’t always like it but the more I thought about it the more I knew he was right. As time has gone on, he has continued to challenge me in all the right ways and then it flips to now where I try to challenge him at times.”

Marsch enjoyed the challenges that came with surviving 14 seasons in the MLS, starting with the league in its debut season. “I think I will always look back on it as a fun time; enjoying the relationships that you build with different players and different people in management,” said Marsch.

“I think that’s the thing, no matter what job you have. Pro athletics is a unique profession; certainly the kinds of people I got to play with and the types of things I learned from great people, those things I carry with me.”

Earlier this year, Marsch realized it was time to hang up his cleats. “At 36, you are not a young kid any more,” said Marsch, who is married with three children.

“I had a concussion issue but regardless of that, it might have been time anyways. Every year toward the end, you start to look a little bit and think about what’s next and when is it time to grow up.”

Getting into coaching was a natural next step for Marsch. “Around 10 years ago, I started the process thinking that I wanted to be a coach so I went through the licenses,” said Marsch.

“I was a volunteer assistant coach at Northwestern and I had a youth club so I had my hand in this and I knew that this was going to be the next thing for me.”

Starting his coaching career by assisting with the national team as it prepares for the World Cup has been a trial by fire for Marsch.

“It is a fantastic opportunity but I have learned very quickly that it is a huge responsibility,” said Marsch. “More than anything I have tried to work incredibly hard to put the time in to make sure that we are prepared and that we are covering all the angles. Bob is already very good at that. It’s me trying to complement him; making sure that we are having the right conversations.”

In Marsch’s view, holding the training camp at Princeton was the right move for the U.S. squad.

“I knew that there are a lot of people here who really respect Bob and what he is all about and that they would do anything to make sure that this is the right situation and it has proven to be true,” said Marsch.

“Pictures don’t do justice to the stadium. I love it because it is first class but it is understated too. It reminds me of Princeton soccer. We always try to do things here first class but not in flashy way. We just do it for each other in a grass roots, blue collar kind of way.”

As the U.S. competes on soccer’s biggest stage this month in South Africa, Marsch is looking to instill those bedrock values in the national team.

“Right now I think we are focusing on creating a rock solid foundation in the group in terms of fitness, soccer, mentality, and unity,” said Marsch of the U.S. squad which started its World Cup run with a 1-1 draw against England last Saturday.

“You know there are going to be ups and downs but we want to be as prepared and as good a unit that we can be so that when those ups and downs come we are ready for them. It’s a little naive to say we will be ready for them because there are going to be challenges that we can’t predict but we are going to try to look each other in the eye and treat each other like men.”

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