MORRIS PLAINS, N.J. – It is 10:30 a.m. on a Saturday, kickoff for the New York Red Bulls upcoming league match is a few hours away and their head coach Jesse Marsch is busily watching a game.
But wasn’t game tape of the New England Revolution, the opponent that evening at Red Bull Arena.
In fact for this relentless worker who is nicknamed the ‘Mad Man’ by the coaching staff for his frantic work pace, the team Marsch is intently watching won’t be on the schedule this year or any year for that matter. His eyes are transfixed on his son Maddux’s U-13 Princeton Soccer Association team in a tournament in North New Jersey.
Here he is, during a sun-soaked day in May, watching youth soccer players kick and chase after a game. To his left, parents are plopped in their lawn chairs, decked out in polos and boat shoes as their young sons play their game. To his right, another set of parents is videotaping their son intently.
Hours away from an important league match, Marsch doesn’t have MLS on his mind. It is the fine line where Marsch stops being a head coach of a professional soccer team and becomes a soccer dad for a few hours.
“I try to just be a supportive father on the sidelines and in their lives and not a coach. If you were to add up the amount of soccer lessons I’ve tried to give them, you can count it on one hand. It is less than five,” Marsch told Metro. "But what I do think is important, when you’re on a team and trying to be a teammate, is how to deal with winning and how to deal with losing. We deal more with things like that. Making sure they learn from it, they enjoy it.”
Marsch followed quite an adventure in soccer. A kid from Racine, WI there are hints of a Midwestern accent as he stands on the sideline, opposite the team bench and with the rest of the parents.
His MLS career began in the league's first season in 1996 as the Princeton graduate had stints with D.C. United, the Chicago Fire and Chivas USA. He’s been an assistant coach with the United States national team and he was a head coach for the Montreal Impact during their inaugural.
Now in his third year with the Red Bulls, he’s among the best head coaches in MLS and will definitely be in the mix for the vacancy as either United States national team head coach after the 2018 World Cup or possibly with a club in Europe.
But here he is on Saturday morning, standing behind his father Larry who is in town from the Chicago area for a visit and sitting in a tailgating chair watching this Princeton club team play.
Maddux made his first-ever start at goalkeeper this morning, a position he’s never played before. He played well and did so against an opponent whose players are all two years older than the squad he’s on.
Not exactly an ideal debut, but father smiles and tousles his son’s hair – “He did pretty well, didn’t you bud?”
Maddux smiles back.
Marsch is inconspicuous at this event as he blends in with the rest of the parents. One wouldn’t know that he’s the head coach of an MLS team, nary a criticism comes from his lips or any second-guessing of the head coach.
He stands and supports, cheering on the team and yelling encouragement at these developing players.
Certainly, he isn’t loud, he isn’t over the top. Simply, he’s there.
He’s just ‘Dad.’
These moments are rare for the father, whose life is so dominated by the grind of being a head coach in a professional sport.
While his children play in games and tournaments on the weekends, Marsch is often coaching in hostile environments like Philadelphia or matching wits with the likes of Patrick Vieira of New York F.C., which he’ll do next week.
The Red Bulls head coach doesn’t carry his job into being a supportive father. He doesn’t interrupt practice or make suggestions to the coaches of his children. But fatherhood has had an effect on him when he paces the sidelines of Red Bull Arena.
“There are a lot of comparisons between parenting and coaching. I’ve learned a lot about the coach I am from parenting my children, finding ways to communicate with them... I’ve learned more from my kids and their experiences than I have anything else. Being a parent is challenging but extremely rewarding. When you see them play and enjoy themselves…it is funny how this game can dominate our lives so much. Chasing a ball around a field.
We’re lucky that we love the sport, we’re lucky that our family loves the sport and loves our team so we’re able to really enjoy that time together when we go to see them play."
All three of his children play. His daughter Emerson is 15 years old and plays for Next Level Soccer Academy. The aforementioned Maddux is 13-years old and his brother Lennon, who recently broke his hand, is four years younger. Both suit-up for PSA out of Princeton.
It is over an hour commute each day for Marsch from the Princeton area to the Red Bulls training facility in northern New Jersey. He stays in Princeton because he loves the place where he played his college soccer, a place where brick sidewalks meet coffee shops and bookstores in the downtown. A school system that is among the best in the state, a place where notes the diversity of his children’s friends.
The sacrifice of this long commute for an idyllic lifestyle is worth it for Marsch, who spends his hour drive each day to the team’s facility on a hands-free headset, as his journey to the facility is a good time for him to talk with assistant coach Chris Armas.
But he makes time for his kids at night to help them with homework or take a walk for the occasional ice cream.
Marsch mows his own lawn and does his own landscaping. He also finds time for these moments to watch Maddux or any one of his other children play soccer or participate in a school activity.
Parents stop by to greet him and talk soccer for a moment or two, keenly aware that this man has won consecutive Eastern Conference titles with one of the biggest teams in MLS.
Marsch perhaps seems a bit uncomfortable with it all, just wanting to be a father this morning, in the company with his own father.
As far as being involved in the coaching of three children, Marsch doesn’t want to go there. He supports the coaches, whoever they might be, and he simply wants to be there for his sons. No critiquing, no second-guessing.
In other words, he refuses to do what fans and the media do to him on a regular basis via social media or internet message boards. There's no judging or criticizing from him. Rather, he wants to be another parent and fit in at the picnics and pizza parties and all the games.
Even here, however, he is never far removed from his high-profile job in MLS. Parents watch him as he watches the game, his celebrity status certainly known among their ranks.
But he stands there and talks soccer, taking well wishes for that night’s game against a tough Eastern Conference side in the Revolution that has been a thorn in the Red Bulls side the past few seasons.
He stands and smiles, says that “Hopefully we get the win” – mere hours before the Red Bulls come back for a hard-fought 2-1 win.
Even on a Saturday morning at Central Park in the middle of Morris County, he can’t escape these questions as Red Bulls head coach.
Maddux stands there after the game, never more than a foot away from his dad. He watches these conversations, old enough to realize that his father is kind of a big deal but still young enough to look at him through the pure lenses of a son’s adoring love.
The conversations are over, the three Marsch men walking towards the car with gear and chairs in tow.
“I’m hungry,” Maddox says, the clock now inching towards 11 a.m. “Can we get Taco Bell?”
Finally, a question that the head coach likes, one for dad and only dad.