HARRISON, N.J. — His eyes are nowhere near the ball, Jesse Marsch’s intense gaze is perhaps a little bit behind or ahead of where most fans focus their attention. When his New York Red Bulls don’t have the ball, his focus isn’t on the opponent as one of the Columbus Crew attempts to push forwardwiththe ball glued to his feet. Marsch is looking at his team’s shape.
“He needs to pinch in,” Marsch says from atop Red Bull Arena, his words to no one in particular, being lost from the sixth floor of the stadium. This is the floor where only the brave wander, a bird’s eye view that pans the entire field without so much as turning one’s head. Marsch is up here Saturday night as he serves a one-game suspension for an ejection the week before. He’s not allowed on the bench, his coaching assistants going so far as to leave his seat on the bench wide open.It is a sign of honor and respect. He’s not there, but his presence is still felt.
Marsch can’t communicate with the team at all so he’s up on the sixth floor, in his suit and tie and designer shoes, helplessly watching his team.Dressed for success but unable to do anything when his team goes down early in the ninth minute.
Moments of digging his right heel into the metal roserhe’s standing on are punctuated with “C’mon!” when his team is fouled for a whistle (his team was called for 10 fouls on Saturday night and each one was followed by a “C’mon”).
There was a folding chair just to the right of where he stood next to the team camera, he never sat down in it once. He alternates between standing upright, both hands on the railing, and hunched over, hands clasped together. On the folding chair is a notebook, a US Soccer logo in one corner a reminder that he was a one-time assistant coach with the national team, and Columbus written in black ink and underlined. It remains empty until midway through the first half, Marsch not going into panic mode even as his team had given up the early goal.
His team wasn’t playing great soccer and at times looked disjointed but they had equalized in the 12th minute and gone ahead for good nine minutes later.
“We may not be playing the way we want to play,”Marsch again says to no one in particular, offering up his thoughts to the rafters just feet about his head. “But they are definitely out of their element.”
There are times he appears to have forgotten that he is six stories above the field and not just feet away from his players. He yells out their names, ready to tell them what to do, forgetting that he is at the highest point of Red Bull Arena. No one is around, just Marsch and this intrepid journalist, woefully under-dressed as the wind whips through the rafters of Red Bull Arena.
“Lloyd!” Marsch exclaims in the first half as midfielder Lloyd Sam carries the ball down the right wing. Marsch’s words are lost in the noise of the crowd below. Truthfully if Marsch and Sam were the only ones in the stadium, player still couldn’t hear coach given the great gulf between them.
That doesn’t stop Marsch, fully head coach and fully fan, from motioning with his arms for Sam to play the ball into space.He can’t help himself, he’s in the moment. It’s his team, even if for a couple hours he’s not their head coach.
There are other times though, when he is quiet and thoughtful. One of his players misses an easy pass for an outlet pass to a teammate. Marsch doesn’t look concerned or angered play by a bad play that gets groans from the stadium below. But if a player isn’t taking the right position, isn’t pressing the right way or is pushed too far up defensively, then Marsch starts his muttering.
Mutter he does and he does it a lot apparently. Even if there is no one around to translate.
“Connor has to tuck-in. Why isn’t Connortuckingin?”Marschagain says to no one in particular. He begins moving his hands, as if willing right back Connor Lade to move through the force of his arm waving.
Magically, almost so, Lade jogs into tighter alignment with the back line.Marsch’sattention now diverts elsewhere, as if telepathically his work here is done.
He’s writing furiously in his notebook, some thought or impression that will have to be saved until Monday’s training session as his team will begin to prepare for the midweek clash with the Montreal Impact. He writes one thing down, the pen cap is his mouth as his lips are pursed together. Right eyebrow is furrowed. The pen is thick and black, his handwriting something between shorthand and a doctor’s scribbles.
His team has played well in his absence, on their way to their second win of the season without him on the sideline.
To his right, down in the lower level behind the goal, the South Ward is singing ‘Wipeout,’ the popular song of yesteryear from the Surfaris, punctuated with words supporting the team. It is a favorite around these parts, one of the few songs that haven’t been ripped off by other supporters around the league…at least not yet.
His team is up 2-1, knocking the ball around. His hands are still clenched around the railing that has kept its watch throughout his time six flights above the field. He hasn’t fallen over yet although, truthfully, he came close once after one of those 10 fouls called against his team. Of course they weren’t fouls, they never are.
Marsch is tense still, his eyes all over the field. He hasn’t taken a deep breath at all in the second half.
But his right foot, behind a leg slightly bent, is tapping to the beat of the drums from the supporters section. Marsch, for the first time all night, is enjoying his view.