Copa América: Jesse Marsch is loving life ahead of Canada-Argentina rematch

EAST RUTHERFORD, New Jersey — Jesse Marsch is enjoying this.

Canada’s American head coach is just six games into the job he took this spring. He already has the Reds two wins from the Copa América title in the country’s first appearance in soccer’s oldest international competition. The Canadians had never so much as won a major tournament game until last month, when they reeled off group-stage victories over Peru and Chile, and then another in a shootout against Venezuela in the quarterfinals.

Now an irresistible semi versus Lionel Messi and World Cup champion Argentina awaits on Tuesday, and Marsch is clearly enjoying the ride — especially on the heels of an 18-month stretch that saw him fired from then-Premier League club Leeds United and passed over for the United States coaching job, too.

In many ways, Marsch and his team will be playing with house money at what promises to be a packed MetLife Stadium. “I never doubted my ability to coach,” Marsch said during his pregame press conference when asked by FOX Sports if Canada’s unexpected success has proved his doubters wrong over these last few weeks.

“What I’ve always doubted in this business is, how do you find the right people to work with?  And so the best thing about where I’m at right now is that it feels like home to me. It feels like I’m working with a group of players that I think value the things that I bring.”

It’s shown on the field. Marsch made left back Alphonso Davies, Canada’s lone truly world-class player, the captain. He’s instilled confidence and a never-stop-running ethos that fit perfectly with the rest of the Reds’ squad, which is made up of solid and hard-working pros, a majority of them MLS journeymen.

“He’s brought a lot of good things to the national team,” said forward Cyle Larin, one of the key holdovers from the Canadian squad that broke a 36-year drought between World Cup appearances by qualifying for the 2022 event in Qatar. 

“All the guys believe in Jesse and the way we’re playing.”

Copa América: Argentina vs. Canada & Uruguay vs. Colombia previews

Copa América: Argentina vs. Canada & Uruguay vs. Colombia previews

Argentina will present their stiffest challenge yet. The defending Copa champion Albiceleste look to take their place among the sport’s immortal national teams by winning a third straight major title. But to reach Sunday’s final in Messi’s adopted home of Miami, they need to win on Tuesday. The two teams have already met once at USA 2024; after a scoreless first half in the June 20 tourney-opening match in Atlanta, Argentina beat Canada 2-0.

The experience of playing each other once means there’s a familiarity there for both sides. Which side benefits more is debatable.

“There were things that we did well against Argentina, and they’re gonna understand our strengths and our characteristics,” Marsch said. “They had a lot of things that they did well against us and I’m sure that they will try to exploit those things again. But I think for us, knowing the quality and the level at which Argentina plays, it’s more of an advantage that we were able to play against them than it was for them to play against us. That’s how I feel.”

Meantime, Larin feels like the underdogs will present themselves as a better, savvier, more experienced foe than they were when this Copa América began.  

“We’re playing against the best team in the world, but I think we’ve grown,” he said. “We know what to expect playing against those players. We’re ready for it. They haven’t seen our best yet.”

That includes defensively. Preventing Messi from picking apart their back line will be paramount. Last month, he set up Lautaro Martinez’s backbreaking second goal with a perfectly weighed pass.

Venezuela vs. Canada Highlights | 2024 Copa América

Venezuela vs. Canada Highlights | 2024 Copa América

“We didn’t do well enough with Messi last match,” Marsch said. “We won’t man-mark him, but certainly he’s an emphasis of how we will defend and our ability to keep track of them will be really important. We know that limiting his space is the number one thing. We don’t want him free and running at our back line and running out our goalkeeper like last game.

“But it’s always a privilege to play against a player like him, and our players will be up for it,” he added. “They’ll be excited, and the challenge is big. So we’ll see if we can do a little bit better than we did in the first match.”

Win or lose, Canada’s run to the final four is a smashing success — both for the nation’s long-suffering men’s program and for their new boss.

“The people in the country have been 100-percent behind me, and us, in what we’re doing with this team,” Marsch said. “From day one, I felt that. The reason I came is because I felt how strongly they wanted me here. And I’m at a point in my life where I don’t need all the other bulls——.”

Doug McIntyre is a soccer writer for FOX Sports who has covered the United States men’s and women’s national teams at FIFA World Cups on five continents. Follow him at @ByDougMcIntyre.

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