Leeds manager Jesse Marsch acknowledges last season’s relegation battle was “intensely stressful.”
A preseason trip Down Under for the American and his squad — now featuring two compatriots in midfielders Brenden Aaronson and Tyler Adams — has been more laid-back. Along with a few friendly matches, the team went surfing and got up close with kangaroos at Perth Zoo.
But with the Australia trip winding down, expectations are ramping up on all three Americans. A slow start could spell trouble for Marsch, while fans at Elland Road will be anxious to see what the club got for the combined $53 million in transfer fees spent on the United States internationals.
Leeds hosts Wolverhampton in the season opener Aug. 6 and has been busy integrating new faces after selling playmaker Raphinha to Barcelona for $60 million and midfielder Kalvin Phillips to Manchester City for $55 million.
“Of course, we’ve lost two big players but I think we’ve added a lot of quality and we’ve added more depth,” Marsch said before their final match of the trip, a 1-1 draw with Crystal Palace in Perth on Friday.
“It won’t make anything easier — the league is incredible, it’s incredible, and it’s a pleasure to be a part of it. It keeps you challenged, it keeps you honest, it makes sure you never get too far ahead of yourself.”
The 48-year-old Marsch replaced Marcelo Bielsa in late February and it wasn't until the season finale — a 2-1 win over Brentford — that Leeds' spot in the Premier League was assured for the 2022-23 season.
The new Americans have played for Marsch before — the 21-year-old Aaronson at Red Bull Salzburg, and the 23-year-old Adams at New York Red Bulls and then in Germany with Leipzig. Like Phillips, Adams is a defensive midfielder, while Aaronson fills a playmaking role.
It'll take some time to gel, though the season is only two weeks away.
“Every game that goes by we're having more and more understanding of each other,” Aaronson told club media after a 1-0 loss to Aston Villa in Brisbane last Sunday. “We're building chemistry, connections. That's what we need going into the season. There were a lot of great plays that we put together but then it's just the finishing touch. That will come.”
Aaronson, who cost Leeds a reported $29 million, showed good decision-making when he threaded a pass to Patrick Bamford in the area for a shot on goal in the first half against Villa.
Marsch praised Aaronson's intelligence in understanding his tactics — noting that he hadn't been as confident when the New Jersey native moved to Austria in January 2021.
“When he first came to Salzburg,” Marsch said, "the first training session I thought, poof, he’s in over his head here, he’s going to have to adjust to the level of what is happening. And within two weeks he was almost our best player. That’s the quality he has. Because of his intelligence, because of his desire, because of his hard work he’s able to apply his talents rather quickly and adapt and grow.
"We’ll need that again. He’s going to be an important player for us this year."
The good news for Marsch is that he's not starting from scratch. He had 12 games with the club last season, even if the final stretch was “a very intensely stressful time.”
“It’s a little too early to start to talk about what the end goal is for the season," Marsch said before a 2-1 win over A-League club Brisbane Roar, “but certainly we would think that we can put together — with the new players we have, with the existing process that we have — a season where we are avoiding putting ourselves in the situation that we were in towards the end of last year."
Marsch also understands there's pressure as an American manager. Bob Bradley managed Swansea for only 85 days in 2016. There was also David Wagner, a German-born former U.S. international who led Huddersfield in England’s top division from 2017-19.
“The better I can do (managing)," Marsch said, "then the more I can hopefully help the sport progress back home and give other American coaches an opportunity.”
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