Earlier this year, it was revealed that New York Red Bulls head coach Jesse Marsch had enrolled in the Scottish FA's 2017/18 UEFA Pro Licence class. The course will deliver its graduates the necessary certification to be the head coach of a team in a top-flight European league, or one involved in UEFA Champions or Europa League. The course runs until the summer of 2018, and requires those enrolled to periodically gather for formal teaching and training sessions.
It is to one such session - in Poland - that Jesse Marsch headed shortly before the end of RBNY's match against Philadelphia Union on June 18.
It is unusual to see a head coach jogging out of the stadium before his team has concluded its match, though Marsch does have a history of leaving games at Talen Energy Stadium early.
Visual proof that Jim Curtin gave Jesse Marsch the touchdown signal for his postgame toss, courtesy of USA Today. pic.twitter.com/ZwTMeMVyyP— Dave Zeitlin (@DaveZeitlin) June 30, 2016
Fortunately for Marsch, RBNY was winning by the time he absolutely had to leave - and he wasn't asked to quit the filed by the referee this time around.
The Red Bulls had provided advance notice to fans that Marsch was about to travel, issuing a statement prior to the start of the Union game:
New York Red Bulls head coach Jesse Marsch will travel to Poland following Sunday's match against the Philadelphia Union for another session in the UEFA Pro License Course.
Red Bulls first assistant Chris Armas will lead sessions while Marsch is away.
Marsch will return for Saturday’s New York Derby match against New York City FC.
After the game, assistance coach Armas fielded questions from the media, and addressed the subject of Marsch's absence:
I was thinking "ahh do not mess this up." I think we had a good handle on the game from there and I did not really think too much about it. We knew beforehand that might be the case and there is always dialogue going of what the final minutes will look like and we had some good talk going into it, how to manage the end of the game if we would need to push the game or close it out. It felt very comfortable.
As it happens, Armas had head coach duties for the full 90 minutes of RBNY's last game - the 1-0 win over New York City FC in US Open Cup - so he was well and recently prepared for the task of watching the team close out a victory.
He'll lead training this week while Marsch is in Poland - another challenge which Armas is taking in his stride.
Jesse will be back toward the end of the week. We have talked in detail about what the week would look like and we have a typical schedule that we go do and the good thing is, we are playing an opponent next weekend that we just played, so we know the preparation is almost to repeat what we just went through last week.
It isn't normal for MLS coaches to take time out for classes in Europe during the season mostly because it isn't normal for MLS coaches to be taking UEFA coaching classes in the first place. Part of the reason there aren't many American head coaches of top-flight teams in Europe is the simple fact that there aren't many American coaches formally qualified for those jobs. (The bigger issue, of course, is there aren't many coaches informally qualified for those jobs: i.e. perceived to have the necessary experience to command respect and manage players at the upper levels of the European game.)
And it might be the case that it's unusual for American coaches to do the UEFA Pro Licence because its requirements are inconveniently timed for those working in the pro game in the USA. It is currently the off-season in Europe: perfect timing for a quiet get-together in Poland for some ambitious coaches - with the exception of the one who had to abandon his team before the final whistle of a league game to catch his flight.
Clearly, Marsch has the support of RBNY for his chosen course of professional study. The Red Bulls will have known enrolling in the UEFA Pro Licence course would see their head coach called away for one or two sessions in Europe at inconvenient moments. As Armas noted: these classes are not a surprise and the club's technical staff plans for them accordingly. Maybe other MLS teams will support their coaches taking UEFA Pro Licence certification, maybe they won't. The Red Bulls, of course, are part of a Euro-centric global family of soccer clubs, so it is perhaps a little easier for the team to find mental space for the idea that its head coach needs in-season time off for a certificate that will make it easier for him to find work elsewhere.
For those who want to see more American coaches in the running for top jobs in Europe: this is the price that must be paid (until or unless UEFA develops certification course designed around the American pro soccer season).
It is valid for RBNY fans to be concerned about a head coach who seems to have taken on a lot this season. Marsch is also enrolled in the course required for the top coaching certification offered by US Soccer. He's got a lot going on this year.
Pundits and devotees of the American game who wring their hands about Marsch's commitment to his club, however, might be well advised to take a breath. The likes of mlssoccer.com will do back flips if Marsch is one day appointed to a top job in Europe - sniping at him now for taking the necessary step toward any such appointment would be little more than knee-jerk hypocrisy. Either you want to see American coaches working toward taking jobs in Europe, or you don't: pick a lane and stay in it.
The bigger question for RBNY fans is whether Papa Red Bull is supporting Jesse Marsch's desire for professional advancement with the intention of landing him at one of RB Global Soccer's European teams in the near future, or merely out of a benevolent interest in an employee's desire for self-improvement.
If all goes to plan, Jesse Marsch will be one of the best-qualified American coaches on the planet by the summer of 2018, with the highest-level certifications available from both US Soccer and UEFA. That will serve him well in whatever it is he hopes to do with his career. Will it serve RBNY or RB Global Soccer also?