Jesse Marsch gets sacked by Leeds and becomes a fascinating USMNT coaching candidate

Jesse Marsch has been fired by Leeds United after less than a year as the club's head coach.

The sacking, which Leeds confirmed Monday, comes less than 24 hours after a 1-0 defeat at Nottingham Forest left the club in 17th place, level on points with 18th-place Everton and on the brink of the English Premier League's relegation zone.

Marsch, a Wisconsin native, had ascended to heights previously untouched by American coaches in European soccer. When he took the Leeds job last February — after climbing the Red Bull ladder, from New York to Salzburg in Austria to RB Leipzig in Germany — he became the second U.S.-born Premier League manager ever. And he quickly outlasted the first, his mentor, Bob Bradley, who in 2016 lasted less than three months at Swansea City.

Marsch's first half-season was a narrow, heart-pounding success. Leeds survived relegation on the final day of the 2021-22 campaign. It then roared into 2022-23 with a rousing win over Chelsea that felt, at the time, like a momentous one for Americans in the sport. (Two of the club's marquee summer signings were U.S. men's national teamers Brenden Aaronson and Tyler Adams.)

But then the realities of Premier League life caught up to Marsch. Over a two-month stretch from late August to late October, Leeds took just two points from eight league games. They responded to mounting pressure that time with dramatic wins over Liverpool and Bournemouth. But they have not won a league game since.

They returned from the World Cup break as committed as ever to Marsch's dogged high-pressing tactics but already seemed to be lagging, even at the season's halfway point. They earned three draws but also slumped to three losses. After the latest, on Sunday, traveling fans chanted: "Jesse, time to go!"

Club officials decided Monday that the fans were right, and they'd seen enough. Marsch, once seen as a rising star in American coaching circles, lost his second consecutive job without completing a full season.

RB Leipzig, a perennial top-four German Bundesliga club, gave him four months before deciding in 2021 that a losing record was unacceptable. At Leeds, his underlying numbers suggested misfortune rather than true futility. But the top-line numbers were straightforward: Marsch took over a club in 16th place last winter. He finished that season in 17th and now leaves the club in 17th once again.

Marsch's USMNT candidacy

With that, he becomes a fascinating USMNT coaching candidate. A month ago, he was a fan favorite to succeed Gregg Berhalter as head coach. The primary roadblock seemed to be his availability. Would he really leave the Premier League for a national team job?

Marsch will now be unemployed as U.S. Soccer begins its coaching search, and the question is no longer whether or when he would take the job; it's whether U.S. Soccer will want him.

Leeds United's head coach Jesse Marsch looks on prior to the English Premier League soccer match between Nottingham Forest and Leeds United at City Ground stadium in Nottingham, England, Sunday, Feb. 5, 2023. (AP Photo/Rui Vieira)
Jesse Marsch is out at Leeds United after less than a year on the job. (AP Photo/Rui Vieira)

Marsch has said “coaching the U.S. national team would be incredible” and that “coaching at the World Cup at home would be an incredible experience." If offered, he would surely jump at the chance to lead the USMNT into 2026.

And he will surely be considered. U.S. Soccer is in the early stages of an organizational revamp. It has hired a consulting firm, Sportsology, to assist with the hiring of a new sporting director, who'll ultimately choose the USMNT head coach. Along the way, Sportsology and U.S. Soccer federation president Cindy Parlow Cone will analyze potential coaching candidates.

But Marsch is no longer an undisputed favorite. His act and his tactics wore thin rather quickly in each of his two most high-profile jobs — both of which suited his style far more than a national team gig would. His teams press intensely and relentlessly. They succeed only when players work in tandem with one another and with Marsch daily. They rarely adjust at scale or adapt to circumstance.

Marsch, therefore, would face many of the same challenges Berhalter did. How would he instill his philosophies and implement his system in short international windows? Would his intensity invigorate players or wear on them?

He is, nonetheless, the most accomplished American coach in top-flight European soccer. Despite his sacking at Leeds, he performed roughly on par with reasonable expectations — which, in the world's most competitive league, is nothing to sneeze at.

He also had a better record than Berhalter in Major League Soccer before his European adventure. He understands the American landscape and the American player. He'd clearly put everything he has into the job. And relieved of any pressure associated with relegation or a quick-trigger sacking, perhaps system implementation would actually be more feasible.

But Marsch is no longer a home-run hire, a name for U.S. Soccer to prioritize and eagerly chase. He is one of a potentially wide range of candidates, all with pros and cons, all with quality but also warts that represent risk.