As the footprint of United States soccer grows in Europe and young stars such as Chelsea's Christian Pulisic and Borussia Dortmund's Gio Reyna continue to elevate their game, the focus, justifiably, remains with this quickly growing group of developing players.
What's not to celebrate? Almost everywhere you look on the old continent, there are young U.S. talents, hoping to not just perform on the biggest club stage but also become stars and eventually help the USMNT become a powerful force in the global game.
American hope, therefore, is laser-eye focused on what happens on the pitch.
But what if we told you that another major step is being achieved off it?
Enter RB Salzburg manager Jesse Marsch. Princeton Tigers' Jesse Marsch. Wisconsin's Jesse Marsch. The 47-year-old manager who is about to face the biggest game of his career against Diego Simeone and Atletico Madrid and fight for a place in the knockout stage of the Champions League.
It's quite simple, really. A win for the former New York Red Bulls manager and the Austrian side and they are in the Round of 16.
But then again, nothing is ever this simple and no one knows that better than Marsch himself, who is all too aware of the monumental task ahead of him.
"They [Atletico] defend really well. They take so much pride in defending, but they have also been so good with the ball and they have created chances and they've been dangerous," says Marsch, speaking to ¡Qué Golazo! and CBS Sports. Marsch, a romantic for attacking football, knows that Atleti are not just a defensive side and thanks to a very talented squad, his team has to watch out for their biggest weapons, and one particular dynamic player worries him more than the rest.
"We had a really difficult time containing Joao Felix last game and once he got the ball in pockets, he was able to turn and run at us and cause trouble. That will be a big part of the job on the day, making sure we know where he is and finding ways of not letting him get on the run."
But it's not just about the young Portugal star. Luis Suarez also returns, bringing another headache for Marsch and company.
"It's an incredible team,' he says. "Preparing for these big matches is always so much fun because the level of tactics, the level of talent on the pitch, it's very high level stuff."
Fun aside, this is a monumental test. Aside from the matchup, this is also about making history as the club could make the knockout stages for the first time ever - pressure that a man like Marsch not only understands, but welcomes.
Marsch loves all of this. He's a glutton for entertainment and has a thirst for battle. It doesn't matter if you're Atletico Madrid, Barcelona, Juventus, Liverpool or Real Madrid. The objective remains: punch them in the mouth as much as you can. Yhere is no backing down, only the will to press forward.
A perfect example is last year's game against Liverpool at Anfield when Marsch and his players entered the dressing room at halftime, already staring at a 3-0 deficit. The players are down, beaten and probably ready to give up until they see their manager entering the room. Marsch walks in and begins a speech so fiery and resilient that immediately wakes everyone up.
""They have to feel us, guys," Marsch said to the team in German with a splash of American gusto. "They have to know we're here to f-----g compete."
Well, they did exactly that as RB Salzburg came roaring back and scored two goals in the first 15 minutes of the second half. In the end, it was too much for the Austrians as Liverpool ended up winning 4-3 but the sheer thought of a comeback and the fight that was instilled, which at that point seemed impossible, became inspiring.
The speech went viral, but most importantly, the world got to see who Jesse Marsch is, a manager who just wants to attack, regardless of the repercussions.
"We're pushing our boundaries to the absolute limits," he says, "...and thankfully, the group has been able to go a little bit higher every game and get a little bit better. And again, it's given us a chance on the final day to see if we - at home - can go through, which we had last year too against Liverpool. Our drive and our focus to take that last step and get out of the group...the motivation will be very high."
For Marsch, the achievement of qualifying for the knockout stage would also validate his philosophy. "Since I've come here I have always talked about taking the club to the next level and for me that was always about being in the Champions League, even getting that this year was a major accomplishment. But I have always talked about getting out of the group phase," he says. "And I have talked a little bit about using Ajax as the model and what Salzburg could become. Now, I think the Dutch league is a little better than the Austrian league and our model is a little bit different than what Ajax does...but I do think that if we can get out of the group stage it can validate what this club has always been about and help the future generations of this club grow and hopefully attract more and more highly talented, young 15, 16, 17, 18-year-old players come to Salzburg and believe in what we do here."
There's no doubt about the talent that Salzburg has and has had in the past, from Liverpool's Sadio Mane and more recently Takumi Minamino, to Dortmund's Erling Haaland to Salzburg's current striker Dominik Szoboszlai - the young Hungarian star who Marsch will probably say goodbye to in 2021 - but the American manager believes that Salzburg players, unlike others from many other clubs, not only have skill, but they have a tremendously high soccer IQ.
"The key is their intelligence and their mentality," says Marsch, who takes pride in reminding people that most of his players come from RB Salzburg's reserve team FC Liefering, who is second in the second division right now - a huge achievement for a squad made up of essentially teenagers. "That's the way this club works. The scouting department really narrows in on the 15 and 16-year-olds, from all over, and when they come here they learn the culture, they learn the language and they learn the football and our mentality."
Mentality is the core of what makes Marsch so special. He is not only a strong manager but also open, passionate and most importantly - he cares about all aspects of the game and the lives of his players and colleagues. More often than not, we forget that this game is also a livelihood, and Marsch never forgets how lucky he is to be part of it.
There is also the responsibility he carries, knowing that he is also representing the United States of America, and all the messages of support from back home impact him. He sees and hears them all, and he is extremely thankful.
"I am extremely appreciative of all the support I have received from back in the U.S. Whether it's the private people that have reached out to me or publicly what people are saying, I really, really appreciate that because I am working hard to be the best that I can be and make all of us back home proud and hopefully achieve so there are more opportunities for others in the future."
From all the personality traits that have been highlighted, there is also the fact that Marsch is ambitious and it's impossible to ask the final question. What does the future hold for Jesse Marsch?
"I am incredibly happy here in Salzburg. My plan when I came here was not for two or three years. My plan has been to see if I can push myself for a career in Europe and how far I can take it. Salzburg, as beautiful a club as this is and as much as I love being here and as great a next step as this has been, I have nothing but positive things to say, and in so many ways I could stay here for 20 years and be so happy, because it's that great. But the reality is, to always push yourself, there's always got to be a little bit of a desire to see what might be next. At the moment I know that taking care of my job at Salzburg is the most important thing...that will ultimately lead me to other opportunities. That focus doesn't waiver. The more I hear my name being floated around different places, that I have to say is a little surreal for me....I realize that my stature is changing and that's also a little bit uncomfortable," he says laughing. "But in the end, I am loving it here, my family is thriving, they're doing really well here in Austria. My daughter is now in university in Scotland. It's changed our entire family's life projection...so...let's see what happens. Let's see."
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