National Writer: Charles Boehm

“My patience has paid off”: Jesse Marsch’s Canada journey begins vs. Netherlands, France

Jesse Marsch - CanMNT

Jesse Marsch has been in charge of the Canadian men’s national team for just a few weeks, and has had only a couple of days in which to work with his squad in person.

That makes the first opponents of his tenure that much more daunting: The Netherlands, who host Les Rouges in an international friendly at De Kuip in Rotterdam on Thursday, and mighty France in Bordeaux on Sunday. Then again, that’s probably an apt caliber of adversary when your next competitive match is against Leo Messi and Argentina in the opening fixture of Copa América 2024, followed by tangles with Peru and Chile later this month.

“What you see is not just the quality of the players but the DNA of the football in this country,” Marsch said of the Dutch in a matchday-1 press conference from Rotterdam on Wednesday afternoon. “They will make it difficult for us. It will be hard for us to find space and possess the ball for major portions of the game.

“But we'll try to be organized in all phases. We'll try to also cause them problems when they're in possession and make sure that they're not comfortable. That's a big task on the day. But I think based on the initial response from the individuals in the team, and the team as a collective, to what I'm trying to achieve with them, I feel positive about tomorrow and I'm excited for the match.”

He noted that he’s “been careful about how much information I've given” the CanMNT in light of the tight timeframe. Yet if there’s anyone in the trade who’d be legitimately thrilled about jumping in at the deep end like this, it’s Marsch. The former CF Montréal and New York Red Bulls boss has always been an animated, charismatic personality, going back to his playing days as a rugged central midfielder and perennial winner at D.C. United, Chicago Fire and Chivas USA.

Instilling an indentity

Perhaps that helps explain his evolution into one of the more prominent evangelists of ‘energy drink soccer,’ shorthand for the hard-running, high-pressing fundamentals of Red Bull’s global network of sibling clubs. After winning two Supporters’ Shields and an MLS Coach of the Year award at RBNY, Marsch crossed the Atlantic to build out his resume at Red Bull Salzburg and RB Leipzig, and now he’s racing the clock to instill his game model with Canada at the start of a massive summer for the 2026 World Cup cohosts.

“The quality of the training sessions have risen drastically and yeah, I think everybody's enjoying the training session, everybody's invested in what he's trying to teach us,” said CanMNT star Alphonso Davies, the Vancouver Whitecaps academy product who’s blossomed into a star at Bayern Munich and reportedly could be on the verge of a huge move to Real Madrid, depending on the twists and turns of the summer transfer market.

“We know that we're going into a difficult game, we know this next month is going to be something special. But overall, I mean, he’s just tried to bring the intensity that we have, try to utilize our pace, utilize our defending and our hard work that we have. So I think everyone's on board, everyone's enjoying it, you know. Nobody's complaining and we're excited to see what the future holds for us.”

Having waited well over a year to get back into the managerial game – it’s been 16 months since he left Leeds United in the midst of an ultimately unsuccessful English Premier League relegation fight – the Wisconsin native believes he’s in the right place at the right time.

“I feel like even though I did wait a long time, that I'm really excited to get back to work. And I think that my patience has paid off, because I'm really happy to be here,” Marsch told “Working with the people inside the CSA [Canadian Soccer Association] has been outstanding, and working with the players has been even better. And I think there's a lot of symmetry in the way that we think.

“The players are excited about the ideas that I'm trying to bring to them, and they're excited about my vision for what I think this team can become. And then the conversations about relationships and leadership and togetherness and all of those things have already been so well established here,” he added in a nod to the sterling work of former manager John Herdman, now at Toronto FC.

The last few years have been a roller coaster for the CanMNT, from the euphoria of breaking a 36-year World Cup drought with their startlingly successful qualification campaign for Qatar 2022, to the mmixture of pride and disappointment at the tournament itself, to the recent budget troubles which reportedly curtailed the program’s camp schedule and played a role in the departure of Herdman.

Yet there’s hope of another new dawn with Marsch’s arrival, powered by his uptempo principles, the ongoing maturation of key players like Davies and the chance to make history in a World Cup on home soil. CF Montréal alum Alistair Johnston, now a regular at Scottish heavyweights Celtic, described the CanMNT’s new identity as “aggressive, aggressive, aggressive … looking to create havoc defensively,” telling fans back home they’ll see a new side of Les Rouges.

Next step for Davies

Marsch has dared Davies, the brightest star in Canada’s soccer firmament since his Cinderella story gained international attention with the Whitecaps, to take another step forward in his career, both in terms of his work rate and impact on the pitch and quite possibly as the national team’s next captain.

“The first time we met each other, he asked me two times or three times what it means to be a Canadian,” Davies explained. “The first time, I told him my answer, but then he really asked me – I had to sit down and really think about it.

“Questions like that, and just, ‘if I was to put you in a situation to wear the armband, how would you carry yourself?’ You know, it's not a question I really get every day … challenging me in that way, getting me out of my comfort zone for sure.”

Amid the enormous strides made by US and Canadian players in recent years, the list of coaches from those nations working in high-level jobs abroad remains a short one, and Marsch is at or near the top.

Add in the backstory that he was reportedly very close to the US men’s national team job last year before a late turnabout saw Gregg Berhalter rehired, with Marsch recently saying he “wasn't treated very well in the process,” and him joining the Yanks’ rivals to the north becomes an even more fascinating subplot for the countdown to 2026.

MLS representation

With 12 MLS-based players on the current squad and another half-dozen or so whose careers began or took flight there, the league figures to be a key ingredient, too. The technical staff are using these two friendlies to guide their final decisions about the Copa roster, with Minnesota United’s breakout star Tani Oluwaseyi among those vying for a spot among that group of 26.

“There's a group of players that I think are pretty secure and pretty clear that they're going to be a big part of our process moving forward. What’s that number, I don't know, is it 15, is it 17, is it 19? It's something like that,” said Marsch.

“But as we move on, we'll always be evaluating what's the form of players’ performances with their club and how do they potentially fit in with what we can do moving forward. And look, we've already made one late addition in Tani Oluwaseyi, and a big part of that was because he was performing and scoring so many goals with his club that we felt like he deserved to come into the group and we want to evaluate them and see how he fits in before Copa América.”