CARSON -- Jesse Marsch returns Wednesday night to Home Depot Center, his home for nearly half a decade, and if it's nothing special to him -- and he says it isn't -- it is for the guys he played alongside.
Marsch, who has the Montreal Impact (4-7-3) humming along nicely for an expansion side, takes his team up against Chivas USA (4-7-3), the club he captained during its golden era under Bob Bradley and Preki, when making the playoffs were more than a dream and the deepest disappointment was failing to extend regular-season success into the postseason.
Marsch was more than the leader of the Chivas teams from 2006 to 2009: He set the Goats' standard for, well, nearly everything.
“I'm excited. I'm excited to play him,” said goalkeeper Dan Kennedy, one of three players, with Ante Jazic and Jorge Villafaña, who remain from Marsch's tenure. “He was the man. I mean, he was really a great, great teammate. He was an incredible leader I tried to learn a lot from. He really set the bar high for my expectation of what a captain is.”
Marsch, a gritty defensive midfielder who made up for a lack of size, discernible speed and sublime ball skill with an intensity and intelligence that gave him a 14-year Major League Soccer career and prepped him for a manager's job while winning the players' respect.
His teammates adored him.
“You knew right away he'd have a successful future in the game as a coach,” said Jazic, who arrived in 2009 from the Galaxy. “Very cerebral guy and a great locker-room guy and a great person in general. ... He was a coach in the locker room, a coach on the field.”
“He was the general,” said Kennedy, who has been with the Goats since 2008. “He demanded a lot out of his teammates, and he made us better as an individual and better as a team. ... He had a very big part in turning this franchise in the right direction.”
Said Villafaña: “He was the heart of the team.”
Marsch, 38, retired during 2010 preseason to become an assistant coach for Bradley, his mentor, with the U.S. national team for the World Cup in South Africa. He played for Bradley at Princeton, then at D.C. United, where Bradley was Bruce Arena's assistant, then with the Chicago Fire, where they won the 1998 MLS Cup as an expansion team.
When Bradley took the Chivas job after the club debuted in 2005 with a 4-22-6 record, he brought Marsch with him, surrounded him with substantial talent -- Ante Razov, Claudio Suarez and Francisco Palencia, for starters -- and made it to the playoffs four straight years, winning the Western Conference regular-season title in 2007 (with a 15-7-8 record).
“I took on a big role and tried to be an organizer and a motivator and understand how to get the best out of each guy,” Marsch said. “That was always my strength as a player in general anyway, was to understand the group and understand how to get the most out of the group.”
He was a mentor for the younger players, made certain everybody took accountability for their actions, then set the tone for Chivas' hard-nosed play by “always giving 100 percent on the field,” Villafaña said. “He would fight for every ball, compete in every game and give everything he had.”
Villafaña was 17 when he joined Chivas is 2007. Marsch, he said, “was hard with the young players. Always screaming. I was scared playing with him, because he was always yelling, 'Run! Run! Run! Run!' ”
“He was very gifted [at instructing players],” Jazic said. “He knew how to get his message across. “He knew who he was talking to, what coaching points he was trying to make. ... He's very passionate. He'll let you hear it [when he's unhappy]. At the same time, he'll put his arm around you and tell you what's good and what's bad.
“He's a very good leader, one of the best ones I've seen in MLS, for sure.”
Marsch says he knew he'd be a coach “years back.” He earned his A license from U.S. Soccer during his playing career and worked with Northwestern University during offseasons for six years. Playing for Bradley and Arena provided opportunity to learn from the country's best coaches.
“I've taken my lessons from all my years of doing this,” he said. “There were certain things with Chivas, with how from the inside we built a really good foundation of what we were going to be about.”
Marsch, whose assistants include former U.S. national-teamer Mike Sorber (also an alum of Bradley's 2010 staff) and former Fire head coach Denis Hamlett, has constructed a talented, veteran team, one that has grown steadily since the season kicked off three months ago. The Impact have won or tied five of their last seven games, with impressive victories at Sporting Kansas City and last weekend against Seattle.
There's a lot of Marsch in the team, in the approach to the game and the mentality and discipline on the field. The goal, he said, was “to create a mentality and a commitment from the inside that's very steady and understands how to be successful. ... Such an important thing in MLS is mentality: How do you deal with tough moments? How do you deal with good moments? That's what we're trying to build, too, just a really strong and competitive and committed mentality.
“I think that's where if you're going to draw a comparison between me as a player and me as a coach, that's where I'd draw it, is the mentality.”
Taking on Chivas for the first time is “really just another game,” Marsch said. “And that's truthful. It's been some time now since I was with the Chivas organization, and there's been so many changes. Obviously Robin [Fraser] and Greg [Vanney, the top two coaches], but there's a lot of new faces. ... [It will be special] a little bit with the fans, because of the relationship I had with the fans here and how great they treated me.”
WORTH NOTING: Winger Ryan Smith joins the injury list after suffering what he called a concussion -- but is listed on the league injury report as a “neck strain” -- in Monday's MLS Reserve League draw with Portland. Defender John Alexander Valencia also is out, with a hamstring strain, as is midfielder Nick LaBrocca, who has missed all or parts of five first-team games since he was hurt May 23. ... The plan is to activate forward Tristan Bowen, returning from a loan spell in Belgium, when the transfer window opens June 27. The Goats had hoped to use Bowen in Monday's reserve game but were unable to because KSV Roeselare is still in possession of his International Transfer Certificate. ... Midfielder Oswaldo Minda will receive his second suspension for yellow-card accumulation with his next caution. He's seen yellow seven times in 12 games this year. ... This is the first meeting with the Impact, but Chivas won a 60-minute preseason match Feb. 14 at HDC, with Casey Townsend scoring the lone goal. ... Chivas is 1-6-1 at home with just three goals. Montreal is 1-6-1 on the road, conceding 16. ... The Goats play Saturday at FC Dallas.
Head coach: Jesse Marsch.
Key players: G Donovan Ricketts, M Patrice Bernier, D Matteo Ferrari, M Justin Mapp, D Nelson Rivas, M Davy Arnaud, F Bernardo Corradi, F Sanna Nyassi.
Local guys: D Tyson Wahl (Newport Beach), plus Ricketts (ex-Galaxy) and F Justin Braun and D Zarek Valentin (ex-Chivas USA).
Update: The Impact made the move from the second division to MLS this season, following the Pacific Northwest clubs' path, and they've grown steadily and appear to be a legitimate playoff contender, especially after last weekend's victory, which halted a four-game winless streak, all competitions. Patrice Bernier and Felipe Martins are quickly emerging among the most dynamic MLS midfield partnerships -- add Davy Arnaud, Justin Mapp and Collen Warner to the mix, and that's a top-level midfield -- and No. 1 draft pick Andrew Wenger's maturation up front is starting to pay dividends. Top scorer Bernardo Corradi's knee injury might be serious, which would be a huge blow, and Italian defender Matteo Ferrari is out with a quad strain.
Out: M Marvin Iraheta (right ACL tear), M Nick LaBrocca (left hamstring strain), M Ryan Smith (neck strain), D John Alexander Valencia (right hamstring strain).
Questionable: M Miller Bolaños (left hamstring strain), F Jose Erik Correa (right hamstring strain).
Out: D Hassoun Camara (right hamstring strain), F Bernardo Corradi (left knee sprain), D Matteo Ferrari (right quad strain).
Home Depot Center (Carson), 7:30 p.m.
Referee: Allen Chapman
TV: Prime Ticket (English)
Radio: W Radio (XEWW/690, Spanish)