While Gregg Berhalter takes the next step in attempting to set the United States men’s national team back on the right track with a Wednesday friendly against El Salvador in Florida, one of his fellow USMNT alums is managing perhaps the highest-profile club game in the history of Americans Abroad.
Jesse Marsch will lead Red Bull Salzburg up against Atletico Madrid in the UEFA Champions League on Wednesday and a win in Austria would be enough to beat Atleti to a place in the knockout rounds.
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That would mean outfoxing Diego Simeone, though Marsch is quickly building a reputation as someone capable of mixing it up with the best.
“Salzburg are a brave side with a great coach, who force you into losing possession,” Simeone said Tuesday. “They try and break in numbers, at pace and with good football. … They’re doing a very good job and everyone can see that.”
Salzburg beat Lokomotiv Moscow in Russia to set up Wednesday’s must-win home match, which will conclude a couple of hours before Berhalter leads the USMNT onto the pitch in Fort Lauderdale.
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Berhalter’s reputation is growing as well, as players like Giovanni Reyna, Christian Pulisic, Weston McKennie, Tyler Adams, and John Brooks make big strides on the world stage.
Wolfsburg sporting director Marcel Schafer, a former Bundesliga champion and teammate of Berhalter, told ProSoccerTalk on Monday that the American coach could wind up in the Bundesliga once his USMNT project is complete.
A day later, we asked Berhalter to reflect on the status of American managers in Europe as so many U.S. players grow their games abroad.
“A lot of credit goes to Bob Bradley for what he did, having success. It really takes success to help that reputation flourish,” “Jesse’s doing a fantastic job, managing that group really well. They’re in contention to go to the Champions League or stay the Europa League, which is a big accomplishment.”
Berhalter says the chances provided by Major League Soccer cannot be discounted and also noted the trailblazing work being done by Marsch and Stuttgart coach Pellegrino Mattarazzo, who are following in the footsteps of Bob Bradley and even Berhalter, who led Hammarby before taking the head job at Columbus Crew and then the USMNT.
“It all starts with Major League Soccer and the opportunity that coaches are given to succeed,” Berhalter said. “It’s a great league to coach in because it’s really difficult with all parity. If you can have a consistent team that’s making the playoffs and winning, you’re doing a fantastic job. Brian Schmetzer, the success he’s having. The coach from Stuttgart, Pellegrino Matarrazzo, is a guy that I’ve spoken to often and is doing a great job. They are out there and it’s just a matter of time. Europe will be an option for more American coaches.”
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Berhalter was later asked about the problems some foreign coaches have had succeeding in MLS, especially with his old team Columbus led by American boss Caleb Porter and set for an MLS Cup meeting with Schmetzer’s Seattle Sounders.
“It’s never easy being a foreign coach in a league,” said Berhalter, who managed in Sweden from 2011-13. “Knowing the player pool is really important. It really comes down to reaching the players that you work with. You have to be able to connect with your group to get the most out of it. MLS is really balanced. If you don’t have your group fighting with each other, it’s going to be tough to win games.”
Also available to the media Tuesday was USMNT center back Aaron Long, who was turned into a center back by Marsch and saw his star rise when the two were together at New York Red Bulls.
On Wednesday, Long will make his first U.S. appearance since February when he captained the Yanks against Costa Rica in his 17th cap. He said he’ll be watching Marsch and Salzburg face Atleti before he strips up for the USMNT, and also showered praise on Berhalter.
As for the man himself, Marsch knows the massive challenge in front of his Salzburg on Wednesday.
“We’re pushing our boundaries to the absolute limits,” Marsch said. “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.”
Kickoff is at 3pm ET Wednesday in Austria.