Not only does former New York Red Bulls head coach and current RB Leipzig assistant Jesse Marsch still watch every RBNY game live, usually in the middle of the night in Germany since he moved to Leipzig in July, he even sticks around for each Chris Armas press conference, too.
So, when Armas is effusive with his praise for Marsch, regardless if questions explicitly elicit a response about his former boss, Marsch sees that, too.
"First of all, I told him to stop doing that! It's not about me anymore, it's about those guys," Marsch told MLSsoccer.com over the phone. "I certainly appreciate the loyalty he has to me and the relationship we have — we go back so far. As players we had each other's backs, as coaches we've had each other's backs. It's nice, but it's not necessary."
The pair do go way back, both sharing the midfield for the Chicago Fire in 1998 in their playing days. They each accrued 200 or more appearances for the club, their tandem only coming to an end when Marsch was sent to Chivas USA in 2005. Since both entered coaching, Marsch has looked to bring Armas with him every step of the way.
But they didn't link up until Marsch was appointed head coach of the Red Bulls in 2015.
Armas wanted to move back to Long Island, N.Y. after his playing career and he did just that, securing a job as head coach of the women's soccer team at his alma mater, Adelphi University. This meant Marsch's attempts to entice Armas to join his staff with the Montreal Impact in 2012 were politely declined, as were any hypothetical conversations about future plans.
A few years later when Marsch got the Red Bulls' job, he figured Armas couldn't possibly find another excuse not to join his staff. But Armas still took some convincing, sweetened only by an EZPass, actually two of them, to make the commute from New Jersey to Long Island a bit easier.
"He's a big family guy," Marsch explained. "I had tried to get him to come with me to Montreal, and talked to him about other places before the Red Bulls. When I got the Red Bulls job, I thought of Chris right away: He has no more excuses, he has to come now. It still took a Herculean effort to get him out of Long Island! The club bought him an EZPass, so the big joke we had was that it took two EZPasses for him to join our staff."
After three and a half seasons as an assistant on Marsch's staff, Armas was given the job when his former boss moved to Germany. There was no deliberation from the Red Bulls and he skipped right over the interim phase, being handed the full job immediately.
"He's done an amazing job, I'm not surprised," Marsch said. "We all knew how good Chris was. For years, he had already been a big part of what we were doing, so I think it was just up to him to modify his leadership role to go from being the guy next to the guy, to now being the guy with the lead voice. I think he's managed to do that really well. I've watched a lot of his press conferences, it's the guy that I know and love, the guy that I knew would step up and be ready to take the job."
Ready he was. Armas has repaid the club by building on Marsch's work with a 12-3-3 record since taking over, culminating with a new MLS single-season record for points and a third Supporters' Shield in six years.
"They're doing such a good job, Chris is taking it to the next step, and the whole team has taken their next step, in terms of taking bigger roles and understanding that it's time to step up," Marsch said. "It's led to the team being the best in the history of the league. I'm very proud of those guys, I'm very proud of our club and the work that's been done by so many. The best part is to walk away and be such a big fan, and support the team in such a big way, to know that there's good people there taking it over."
In Germany, Marsch is enjoying the new chapter of his professional career. RB Leipzig currently sit third in the Bundesliga, ahead of Bayern Munich, just five points behind Christian Pulisic and league-leaders Borussia Dortmund. He's even been a quick learner of a new language in just four months.
"My German is actually not bad," Marsch proudly admitted. "It's gotten better and better, it's basically a test of survival because the people here don't always wait for me to speak English or understand, so I have to learn to keep up. For anyone who has learned a second or third language, it's such an engaging project. The key is to be open-minded to wanting to learn. In general, the football is fantastic. What a great club, what a great league. Some incredible experiences."
Leipzig resume play following the international break on Saturday, a day before the Red Bulls face Atlanta United in Leg 1 of the Eastern Conference Championship (5 pm ET | ESPN, ESPN Deportes, TSN, TVAS). Marsch will be watching live, of course, and said he learned how to take a more cerebral approach while viewing the game from afar.
"The first game, I yelled at the TV a lot," Marsch said. "That was against New York City. Since then, I've been able to take a more serene approach."
When the Red Bulls eliminated Columbus Crew SC in the Conference Semifinals last round with a 3-0 second leg victory, Marsch wasn't surprised. In fact, it went exactly as he predicted it would.
"We have a text with all the coaching staff, they're encouraging me in Leipzig and I'm always encouraging them back in New York," Marsch said. "We remain very close. After we won 3-0, they said what a great game we played. I said 'yep, now it's your turn: you heard it here first, you're going to win 3-0.'"
Armas, against his friend's wishes, gave Marsch an unprompted shoutout as he finished his press conference after that game.
"Jesse told me he was going to stay up late and watch this one," Armas said after the win. "At their game today, they won 3-0. He told me we'd win by the same score. Jess, I hope you stayed up and can feel proud at what this team continues to do."
Marsch was proudly watching, rooting for his former colleagues and dear friends: Just like every other game.