Despite loss to Argentina, Jesse Marsch has quickly molded Canada in his own image

EAST RUTHERFORD, New Jersey — When Argentina goalkeeper Emi Martínez handed the ball to the referee and the whistle blew to signal the end of Tuesday’s Copa América semifinal here, the scoreboard read as most probably expected beforehand: 

Argentina 2, Canada 0.

The loss was nonetheless disappointing for the Canadians. But this tournament has also been a transformational one for the 2026 World Cup co-hosts, with the Reds rebounding from a tournament opening 2-0 loss to this same Albliceleste side by beating Peru, Chile and Venezuela to reach the final four. 

And it’s not done for Jesse March’s team, which will play either Colombia or Uruguay for third place on Saturday. Somewhere along the way, the Reds took on the personality of their cocksure American coach.

“He’s wanted us to be a bit more arrogant,” defender Alistair Johnston said of Marsch after Tuesday’s contest. “He says we’re ‘too Canadian’ in some ways, where we’re almost too nice, and he wants us to have a bit more arrogance about us. And I think that we’re having that. We’re going out not being fazed. We’re not just enjoying it — we’re really going out there and saying screw these guys, lets go out and let’s throw the first punch.”

Canada almost landed it Tuesday against the World Cup champions. Despite entering the match as the heavy underdogs, the Reds had three golden chances to score during an end-to-end opening 20 minutes. They failed to capitalize and, sure enough, Argentina took the lead through Julián Álvarez and never looked back. Lionel Messi added the backbreaking insurance goal early in the second half.

“I think we just lacked efficiency in the final third,” Marsch said “Every match, we created big chances.” I know that they’re very disappointed, but I’m very proud of them. We’ve put together some incredible performances.”

Performances they can build on. On Saturday and beyond.

“We’ve had a wonderful five weeks, six weeks together, and it’s gone way better than any of us could’ve scripted,” Marsch said. “There’s still a lot of work to do. But we’ve built a really good foundation. I think we’ve made a lot of progress together. And I’m really optimistic about what the future can look like.”

Canada manager Jesse Marsch postgame presser after loss to Argentina in Copa América

Canada manager Jesse Marsch postgame presser after loss to Argentina in Copa América

When Canada men’s national team qualified for the last World Cup in Qatar, it marked the program’s first appearance at soccer’s marquee event in almost 40 years. The country still has never won a men’s World Cup game. They had lost seven straight matches in major competitions after losing the Copa opener to Argentina. 

They’ll have to get deeper, much deeper, in order to get anywhere near the final four at the next World Cup two years from now. That process has already begun. Marsch surprised many when he benched stout Qatar 2022 veteran Kamal Miller in favor of young central defender Moïse Bombito at this Copa. Bombito has more than repaid that faith even if he was beaten on Álvarez’s strike on Tuesday.

“I’m trying to really build and develop every single player in this pool so that we can have a real 26-man squad when it comes to 2026,” Marsch said. Like young forward Tani Oluwaseyi, who came on as a substitute on Tuesday and showed flashes of his potential.

“He gave me an opportunity based on a small pool of games and I’m very grateful to him,” Oluwaseyi said. “I think every guy who he’s given an opportunity to stepped up. And I think we will just continue to see that as the years and months go on.”

What they’ve already seen is an attitude shift. Canada entered this competition as an afterthought. Whatever happens on Saturday, they will leave it with a well-earned swagger that can only help carry them forward. Much of that is thanks to Marsch, and the self-belief that he’s instilled in his players already.

“That really comes from him and in his style of play and how he leads us,” Johnston said. “You can see the energy on the bench. He’s fired up. He’s fired up at the officials, he’s fired up with every play. And we feel that on the pitch as well. So he’s been great for that.

“He brings a level of confidence like, No, we deserve to be here,” he continued. “And we do. It’s not a fluke that we made it this far. We have been a really difficult out and, again, we gave the world champs, the best team in the world by far, another really tough game.”

Argentina vs. Canada Highlights | 2024 Copa América | Semifinals

Argentina vs. Canada Highlights | 2024 Copa América | Semifinals

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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