LEEDS -- In simple terms this was just three points for Leeds United on the road to Premier League survival ... and perhaps a fair bit better than that if the early season returns are anything to go on. It will doubtlessly be a game warmly remembered in this particular part of Yorkshire, hardly destined for the upper echelons of Elland Road history but one of the better days they have enjoyed since the great decline of the early 2000s.
That is what it means for Leeds United and so perhaps this is a more significant day for American soccer in England than it is for the team itself. This stirring 3-0 win ought to live long in the memories of American fans as the day that talent they produced carried the day in emphatic fashion over a team who are, for all the difficulties they have endured in recent months, the reigning champions of the world.
There was more to the 11 outstanding players who carried their team to victory than just what we will call "Major Leeds Soccer" but equally on days like today they serve as an outstanding billboard for American talent on and off the pitch. A player who made his debut in MLS had a hand in all three of the hosts' goals. These were not the grizzled veterans and steady hands in defense that made up the bulk of US exports to the Premier League in years gone by. In Tyler Adams, Brenden Aaronson and Jack Harrison (English-born but brought through the Massachusetts academy system in his teens and played at WakeForest), Leeds have players capable of imposing their wills on contests.
Aaronson certainly appeared to appreciate the auspiciousness of the occasion.
"It goes to show people around the world that Americans can play football too," he told broadcasters after the final whistle. "We are playing for a Premier League team, getting goals and assists and the coaching side too. There's more and more talent, it's a great start and it's going to get better."
As Christian Pulisic -- who has played 18 Premier League minutes in his best left wing position since the end of the 2020-21 season and was thrown into the contest as a central midfielder today -- can attest, it helps when they are put in positions to best exploit their talents. Jesse Marsch brought Aaronson to Red Bull Salzburg in 2021 and honed his pressing game. Through two games he led the entire Premier League in pressures attempted, and it is fair to assume that when fbref come to update those statistics for Gameweek 3 he will still sit similarly highly up the rankings.
No matter how many more pressures he attempts this season there will be none as momentous as his closing down of Edouard Mendy. Most might have let the Chelsea goalkeeper be after a feint had sent Aaronson in the air. Mendy certainly seemed to let his guard down for a moment, allowing Aaronson to sneak in and claim the first Premier League goal that probably should have been his on the opening weekend.
It was a moment to typify what the youngster highlighted as the difference between the two sides on Sunday. Few players will work as hard as Aaronson. Few teams can match Leeds for intensity. Asked to reflect on the fact that Leeds had, at one stage in the game, run 11 kilometres further than Chelsea (which perhaps reflected nothing more than the visitors having more possession), the 21 year old said: "It just shows you who wants it more in the moment of time. We had the drive today. We were all pumped up. The crowd got us pumped up all the time. You could see it on the field. Everybody was driven and those are the kind of goals we score."
The youngster is perhaps doing down his own qualities if he wants to suggest that it was hard work that allowed Leeds to get the better of Chelsea. After all, it was not grit and determination that saw Aaronson spin Kalidou Koulibaly (four times in Serie A's team of the year and its best defender in 2019), but technique and composure.
He was not the only one to show the quality to win individual battles. Adams might only have won 54.5 percent of his duels on paper but when it mattered most he emerged victorious from his clashes in the midfield battleground. From the second minute he had Leeds on the front foot, his preternatural sense for where the ball might break in midfield meaning that he could quickly advance the ball to the quicksilver quartet bearing down on the Chelsea goal.
It will surely not have escaped the attention of either Gregg Berhalter or Gareth Southgate that the US international pressured Connor Gallagher out of the game, forcing Chelsea to change system to a three. They needed the midfield superiority because Adams and the impressive Marc Roca had Jorginho and Gallagher comprehensively beaten. This was the player who was earning admiring glances from Europe's top clubs early in his career on the continent, not the one who had been pushed to the bench at RB Leipzig late last season.
"Tyler is a guy who is playing the best football in his life, for me, and I know the potential that he has, because I've known him for so long," said Marsch of a player who he gave a debut to when they were at New York Red Bulls. "I could see from the beginning when he came in and we had some tough conversations, we needed to almost pick up where we left off a couple of years ago and he's certainly doing that in a big way.
"With all these guys, they're playing really well and there's so much more potential yet, I would say that about Tyler as well. I'm really happy with him, but we can continue to help him to get better and better."
As for Marsch himself this game had the feel of a milestone. Even though he kept Leeds in the Premier League last season,supporters did not immediately warm to him; he was like the new stepfather for children still in mourning about the break up. To make matters worse they weren't even getting to see Marcelo Bielsa on the weekends.
But in much the same way as a few well purchased presents can ingratiate any new stepdad into children's affections, so an unbeaten run to start the season had Elland Road chanting Jesse Marsch's name as full time loomed large. He knows he's not replacing Papa Marcelo any time soon but he hopes the supporters can at least find space in their hearts for him.
"There's probably still a lot of doubts in me. It's okay. It's normal. There's going to be people that like me, there's going to be people that hate me," he said.
"I just want the team to play with love and passion and belief. I've tried not to be pandering. I've tried to be appreciative of what the club is. I've tried to adapt to what the club is. I said after we lost that Aston Villa, that first match, I sat here and I said, 'Listen, I learned tonight, what it means to be here at Elland Road, and I have to make sure that we build match plans and make sure that we include exactly what it means to play here'.
"I know the fans are so intelligent. I hope they start to see a little bit more of like what the tactics are and what we're trying to accomplish.
"Obviously, they learned a lot in the past with different things in the way different team that Marcelo liked to play or different people liked to play. I hope they're starting to gather more information as to what the tactics look like with him without the ball and yeah, I would say it's an intelligent crowd. It's a passionate crowd and winning always helps but performances I think are in some ways more important."
It is not just at Elland Road that they are being handed the information to challenge their preconceptions over Marsch and indeed American soccer. Six years ago Bob Bradley was laughed off these shores for failing to get much of a tune out of an ordinary Swansea team. Marsch's arrival was greeted by a torrent of Ted Lasso memes across social media ... and don't think he didn't keep the receipts for all those who questioned him.
Increasingly it looks like those questions have been answered. Since his appointment Leeds have more wins than losses (a 6-4-5 record to be precise) and sit 10th in a Premier League table from March 1st, 12th for expected goals scored per game, 11th for expected goals allowed. A team that was teetering on the precipice when Bielsa left is now firmly ensconced in the middle of the pack after an impressive summer transfer window even that might be underestimating their quality.
Oh and if Marsch still needs to ingratiate himself with Leeds supporters he might just point to this particular statistical curio. On the day of his appointment on March 1, Manchester United were fourth in the Premier League table, in the ascendancy in their Champions League round of 16 tie and seven top flight games unbeaten. Since then the Yorkshire side have taken twice as many Premier League points as their great rivals, who have slipped ever deeper into crisis mode. Outperforming the biggest rival, staving off relegation and guiding Leeds to a heavy win over another team with whom they share deep emnity? Marsch will have firmly won these supporters over before too long.