HANOVER, N.J. – Jesse Marsch is no stranger to controversy.
Now in his second go-round as an MLS head coach, the former USMNT assistant has seen first-hand the drama that can surround both an exit from and appointment to an MLS club’s top job. And on Wednesday, the past will meet the present as his New York Red Bulls head north of the border to take on the Montreal Impact side he once lead into North American soccer’s top flight just three years ago (8 pm ET, MLS LIVE).
“[There’s] not much to it,” Marsch said of his return to Montreal, who he coached in their expansion season in 2012. “It’s a long time ago now, and they’ve moved on.”
The Impact certainly have, enjoying a fair bit of success in the process. From their historic CONCACAF Champions League run that saw them reach the final this spring to their recent signing of Ivorian superstar Didier Drogba, Montreal has undergone some major changes since Marsch left nearly three years ago. But despite managing a respectable 42 points during that 2012 season, the Impact missed out on the playoffs as Marsch and the club “amicably” parted ways at season’s end, citing a difference in philosophy.
“I’m just excited to see my friend Frank Klopas who’s the head coach up there,” said Marsch, refusing to treat this upcoming match any differently. “Other than that, I’m just getting our team ready for another good effort on the road.”
Fast-forward to the winter of 2015, and Marsch found himself embroiled in another moment of high drama and turmoil. Following two of the most successful years in franchise history, recently appointed RBNY sporting director Ali Curtis fired club legend Mike Petke in order to bring in Marsch to head up his new project. The move drew the ire of the club’s long-time supporters, culminating in a fiery town hall meeting in January that saw Curtis and Marsch fielding questions from a disgruntled and incredulous audience.
“You don’t have to like me, and you may never like me,” Marsch stated at the meeting. “That is the role of the coach, but that isn’t important to me. What’s important to me is the team… If we lose, you will hate me. If we win, maybe you will put up with me. But give this team a chance to take the field and compete.”
Since then, Marsch has done just about everything right. Side stepping some early backlash as he proclaimed his team would play “like an energy drink,” Marsch has, by and large, earned the trust of a notoriously fickle New York fan base with the no-nonsense approach he debuted upon his appointment in January. Whereas his philosophy saw a clashing of heads in Montreal, his current coaching style has been accepted and embraced from top to bottom, and the results have been there to boot, with the Red Bulls currently sitting in second in the East.
On Wednesday night, the journey will come full circle as Marsch makes his return to Saputo Stadium looking to lead New York to their sixth victory in seven league matches. The RBNY head coach won’t be the only one making his return to Montreal, as Felipe and Karl Ouimette, both of whom began their MLS careers’ under Marsch’s tutelage in Canada, figure to start against their former club. While Felipe insists, “what’s in the past should stay in the past,” the Canadian international and Quebec-native Ouimette is relishing the opportunity to return the area he calls home.
“I’ve been there 22 years of my life, so it’s definitely going to be emotional,” Ouimette said. “It’s going to be good playing in front of [family and friends] with another jersey on.”