When he was manager of Montreal Impact back in 2012, Jesse Marsch could never have foreseen a Belarusian called Vitali Lisakovich ruining his night.
But that’s just what happened this evening in the Austrian city of Salzburg, where he’s currently head coach to the local Red Bull club.
Needing a good start in a Champions League group that also contains heavyweights Bayern Munich (a less than 2-hour drive away) and Atletico Madrid, RB Salzburg managed to get back from conceding an early goal against Lokomotiv Moscow, to lead 2-1 early in the second-half. Lisakovich a 68th minute sub, had only been on the pitch 7 minutes when he tied the game up at 2-2 And that’s how it ended.
The rest of Marsch’s UCL schedule is a daunting prospect: Atletico (away), Bayern (away), Bayern (home), Lokomotiv (away) and Atletico (home). Tonight was probably his best chance of earning a win.
But he and RB Salzburg do have previous... Last season, his first in the city of Mozart’s birth, he lead the club into the Champions League, managing a couple of wins home and away over Belgians, Genk. And despite losing twice to Liverpool, managed to secure a point in Naples after narrowly losing to the Italians at home.
Even at Anfield, Salzburg showed real grit and character coming back to level the game from 0-3 down, before Mo Salah applied the winner for the reigning European Champions on 69 mins.
So maybe we shouldn’t be writing the Austrian Red Bulls off too soon. They’re used to winning domestically after all, although some would argue Marsch has the easiest coaching job in Austria.
Of the fifteen seasons since Red Bull became involved, Salzburg has been Austrian champion eleven times, including in each of the last seven seasons when their points winning margins over the second-placed clubs have been 18, 6, 9, 18, 13, 12 and 12 last season.
They’ve also won the Austrian Cup seven times in the last eight years, only losing out in 2018 when Sturm Graz won 1-0 AET.
Financial backing from the Austrian energy drinks company has heavily tipped the playing field in their favour. Add to that the riches these days enjoyed through perennial Champions League qualification, even if you exit in the preliminary stages, and you understand why no other club in Austria can compete financially with Jesse Marsch’s team.
The pattern actually is being repeated in several countries across the European continent.
If there’s pressure for Marsch, it is that at the very minimum he must deliver the Austrian Bundesliga each year and probably win the national cup competition too, although at some stage lifting Salzburg past the Champions League group stage will inevitably become a target.
Should that happen this season it will be nothing short of miraculous, as it will if Salzburg don’t retain the Austrian title on the other side of the scale. They’ve started well domestically, played 4, won the lot for a 17-4 goal difference and two point lead over traditional powerhouses Rapid Vienna, the former club of the great Hans Krankl.
The Red Bull organization and Marsch have been good for each other. His preparation for Europe began to formulate while coaching the New York Red Bulls with whom he won the Supporters’ Shield. That’s when German lessons entered his weekly schedule.
“There’s two things that come along with [speaking German]. There’s an adaptation to the culture, which includes understanding how the people work and how they think and how they talk, and there’s also showing my vulnerability, the imperfection of who I am,” said Marsch a year ago, when he became the first American to coach in the Champions League group stage.
“That’s a big part of how I coach. We have a lot of young players in our team and they have to know that making mistakes is OK. If you know German fluently and you listen to me speaking German, literally every sentence I make mistakes. So it’s then a chance for me to show improvement, show vulnerability, and work through that personally.”
His first move outside north America was as assistant to Ralf Rangnick at Red Bull Leipzig for the 2018/19 season, when he worked with the likes of Timo Werner and Dayot Upamecano, a recently rumoured target for Manchester United. Leipzig finished third in the Bundesliga and reached the DFB Pokal, the German Cup Final, which they lost 0-3 to Bayern Munich in Berlin, a game in which Marsch’s former player at New York, Tyler Adams played.
But his twelve-month term as assistant in Germany became preparation for taking the reins at RB Salzburg.
Should Marsch keep Red Bull’s Austrian football operation running smoothly and guarantee domestic dominance with some level of UCL success thrown in, it could ensure a move back to eastern German and Leipzig where current coach Julian Nagelsmann, steered the side into last season’s Champions League semi-finals.
Perhaps it’s written in the stars for the former MLS midfielder?
It would certainly represent spectacular progression for the American who took his first head coaching role here at Montreal, as the Impact was preparing for MLS-life in August 2011.