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Marsch as new men’s coach signals new direction for Canada Soccer

‘Major philanthropic contributions’ help national program tap experienced leader
Leeds United head coach Jesse Marsch looks on during English Premier League soccer between Manchester United and Leeds United at Old Trafford in Manchester, England, Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Dave Thompson

Canada Soccer has found its successor to John Herdman in Jesse Marsch, a coach with experience at the highest club level in England, Germany, Austria and North America.

And in hiring the 50-year-old American to run the men’s national team through July 2026, the much maligned governing body showed it has a new way of doing business.

New CEO and general secretary Kevin Blue drew a skeptical response from many last month when he pointed to philanthropy as a way to help Canada Soccer’s battered bottom line. On Monday, he delivered on that score.

Marsch’s hire was facilitated by “major philanthropic contributions” from the owners of the three Canadian-based MLS clubs — Vancouver Whitecaps, CF Montreal (Joey Saputo) and Toronto FC (Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment) — and supplemented by other private donors, according to Canada Soccer.

It’s likely the appointment wouldn’t have happened without it.

Marsch’s coaching resume includes Leeds United, RB Leipzig, Red Bull Salzburg, New York Red Bulls and the Montreal Impact (now CF Montreal). His last job was at Leeds, which fired him in February 2023 after a year in charge.

Marsch exuded enthusiasm and confidence in a virtual availability from Tuscany, Italy, saying the fit is right with Canada.

“It’s been a while for me since I’ve worked and it’s given me a lot of time to reflect and have a lot of conversations,” he said.

“In the end I was looking for something that inspired me,” Marsch added. “Both from a perspective and from a football perspective. … Honestly it was relatively an easy decision. Once we could see that the fit was really good then it was just a matter of ‘How do we make this happen?’”

Marsch said the quality of the Canadian players — he cited their “raw athleticism and team speed” — helped him make the decision.

“Without the talent in this group, it would be a different conversation,” he said. “And the way that I think about football and the qualities of this player pool, I think, fit really well and will allow us to develop the team even further than where it’s already been and it’s already been very successful.”

His first games at Canada’s helm will be big ones.

The 49th-ranked Canadian men take on the ninth-ranked Netherlands on June 6 in Rotterdam and No. 2 France on June 9 in Bordeaux. Then it’s on to Copa America as one of six CONCACAF guest teams.

Canada has been drawn in a pool with No. 1 Argentina, No. 32 Peru and No. 42 Chile at the 16-team Copa America, which runs June 20 to July 14 in the United States.

A former U.S. international, Marsch played 14 seasons with D.C. United, the Chicago Fire and Chivas USA from 1996 to 2009.

Marsch, who becomes the 20th Canadian men’s head coach, has a 170-66-103 managerial record, according to Canada Soccer.

That coaching resume should help earn the respect of a Canadian team that has been at odds with its governing body and has yet to settle its ongoing labour dispute.

Blue also scores points for involving former Canadian internationals Tosaint Ricketts, Atiba Hutchinson and Rob Friend during candidate interviews. Canada Soccer said “additional consultation” during the search came from the likes of former Canadian internationals Josh Simpson and Julian de Guzman and veteran coaches Valerio Gazzola and Tony Fonseca.

Former York United CEO and president Angus McNab was also involved.

The Canadian men have been without a permanent coach since Herdman stepped down last August to take over Toronto FC.

Assistant coach Mauro Biello has been serving as interim coach since then. The former Canadian international was a candidate for the permanent job.

In hiring Marsch, Blue clearly drew on lessons learned as chief sports officer at Golf Canada, athletic director at the University of California, Davis, and senior associate director of athletics at Stanford University.

“In recognition of their significant philanthropic support, Marsch’s position will be formally titled as the MLS Canada Men’s National Team Head Coach during the term of his initial contract,” Canada Soccer said in a statement.

“This type of donor recognition is common at universities and hospitals, in NCAA sports, and is starting to be used in the Canadian sport system — for example, with the Stollery Family Women’s National Team Head Coach support at Golf Canada.”

The search for a permanent replacement to Herdman has taken time.

Canada Soccer looked to hire a general secretary first, then a men’s coach. But the timeline was delayed when former MLSE executive Allyson Walker was hired but never took up the general secretary job in January, citing undisclosed personal reasons.

The search resumed after Blue was appointed in late February.

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