By Paul Gardner
How interesting. Jesse Marsch is to go straight from being an MLS player to being an assistant coach on the national team.
Obviously, he has no coaching experience (though, for whatever it’s worth, he does have a USSF “A” license). And he has virtually no experience of the international game. His playing experience with the national team covered just two substitution appearances, totaling 20 minutes.
The only explanation we get from Banality Bob Bradley is this: "I believe the knowledge and experience he brings will be a great benefit to both the players and the coaching staff." I hope, for Bradley’s sake, that this drivel was written by his PR department. But I doubt it. It sounds like Bradley at his banalissimo worst.
Marsch’s playing career is remarkable for its long life. He’s played in every MLS season since the first one in 1996. We are told that he has “collected” three MLS Cup titles -- which is a nice way of hedging round the fact that the first two of those titles came in 1996 and 1997 with D.C.United -- two seasons during which Marsch started only one game. But Marsch did contribute significantly to the success of the Chicago Fire in 1998, and in the following seven seasons. He contributed very little to Chivas USA, which never got beyond the first round of the playoffs during the four years (2006-2009) that he was there.
From the start of his serious playing time (under Bradley at Chicago), Marsch was always noticeable on the field, if only because he quickly became the league’s most irritating presence, repeatedly engaged in squabbles and quibbles with referees. At one point, he remarked that he was so upset with the refereeing of Kevin Stott, that it might make him think about retiring from the game. I and a colleague joked about sending Stott a “Keep up the good work!” e-mail. Just joking, of course.
That Marsch would tangle with referees was natural enough, because he was always a serial fouler. His top fouling year came in 2002 when his 57 fouls placed him in fourth place in the league wide statistics. In 2007 came his most celebrated foul as he tried to make a name for himself by kicking David Beckham up at groin level, causing a fierce confrontation with the Galaxy superstar.
The following year Marsch informed the Daily Breeze that the way to start a game was to get out there and commit a few fouls: “It's important for me to set a tone early in the game and I do that a lot of times by fouling. I find that that gets me going, gets the competitive juices flowing.”
But the foul on Beckham was not typical. Marsch was not a particularly violent player. The majority of his physical fouls were, at most, yellow-card fouls. Even so, Marsch -- as is usually the case with players who take the field seeking physical contact -- had a bee in his bonnet about diving. Players who went down under his onslaughts were obviously all faking it. In a 2007 column, having established his he-man credentials -- “I grew up in Wisconsin ... We like brats, cheese, beer, and the Packers” -- he proclaimed a No Diving campaign. As targets, he singled out Carlos Ruiz, Brian Ching and “every Brazilian that comes to play in America.”
Very odd, that last bit. As it happens, pitifully few Brazilians have come to play in MLS, so Marsch’s experience of playing against Brazilians must be minimal. And does he really mean every Brazilian? I’ll take him at his word -- in which case, how does he account for the fact that Brazil is the world’s top soccer nation? Brazil has won five World Cups -- a lot more than Wisconsin, I do believe. Is that because of, or despite, the promiscuous diving?
Without questioning Bradley’s admiration of Marsch’s “knowledge and experience,” I am merely pointing out that there are some problems of attitude here that would surely need to be addressed in a player who has been catapulted into the rarified atmosphere of the national team’s ruling class.
To wit: an addiction to serial fouling, a compulsion to quarrel with referees, and a conviction that all Brazilians are cheats.
Bradley, for sure, must be well aware of all this. He has been Marsch’s benefactor since recruiting him at Princeton University and he has coached him professionally at D.C.United, Chicago, and Chivas USA. It is disturbing to ponder that Bradley might actually find the attitudes mentioned above to be positive additions to the national team coaching agenda.
More likely Bradley is simply willing to overlook them. A kindly touch from the master to the protégé who, not long ago, let it be known that he regards Bradley as “a genius.”