Q&A with Montréal Impact manager and Princeton alum Jesse Marsch

KANSAS CITY, Mo. - Jesse Marsch was very much a man in demand at the Major League Soccer SuperDraft.

As the head coach of MLS’ newest team, the Montréal Impact, Marsch held the top overall pick in the draft. He used it on Lititz, Pa., native Andrew Wenger, a defender/midfielder from Duke who won the MAC Hermann Trophy this past season.

That would have been enough to get Marsch plenty of attention. But working in Montréal brings an even greater spotlight, since there are just as many French-language media outlets as English-language ones.

So there are two sets of newspapers, radio networks, TV stations, and so forth. Many of those organizations were present on Thursday afternoon.

Even though this is Marsch’s first year as a head coach, he has a strong pedigree. The 1996 Princeton alum played for D.C. United in MLS’ first two seasons, then spent eight years with the Chicago Fire (some as Peter Nowak’s roommate) and four with Chivas USA.

After retiring before the 2010 season, Marsch spent two years as an assistant to Bob Bradley with the U.S. national team.

Now he is making his debut as a head coach, in a city with a culture unlike any other in MLS. It will be interesting to see how he fares.

After the Impact made their selections yesterday, I dropped in on the Montréal media horde to listen to what Marsch had to say. I also was able to ask some questions about him making the transition from to player in MLS, and about being part of a strong soccer tradition at Princeton.

Here are some highlights.

On selecting Andrew Wenger instead of Akron forward Darren Mattocks with the No. 1 overall pick:

I don’t think it’s much of a surprise. Darren Mattocks was on a lot of people’s minds because it’s a little more sensational. He’s a forward, he’s dynamic. But in the end, Andrew Wenger is the most complete player in this draft. He’s also, I think, one of the most mature young men. And I know he’ll be able to handle everything that comes with being the first pick.

It was pretty much a unanimous decision among our organization that he was going to be the first pick.

On how Wenger’s desire to complete his degree at Duke before fully joining the Impact will affect his development:

There are a number of variables with Andrew moving forward with us. He’s in the Olympic team and he would like to graduate from Duke. We’re going to work with him to meet those goals, which means that it will be a little challenging in how he is introduced to our team.

But I know that he’s a smart kid, and that he’ll adjust easily and well, and be ready to go.

On whether his time at Princeton influences his view of Wenger’s situation:

We sat down and talked about it. I actually went through a very similar situation. In 1996, I was drafted by D.C. United. I was part of the Olympic team pool, and I was trying to graduate from Princeton at the same time.

We talked about this experience, and the challenges involved with getting through the next four months for him. I hope I can help him through that, and I respect his wishes to now finish and get his college degree, and also to make a real run at the Olympics.

I think that those are important experiences for him, to have a well-rounded start to his professional career.

On being part of a tradition of Princeton alumni in American soccer:

What all of us that have gone to Princeton share is the opportunity to be part of a great program and be at a great school. All of us went to school there thinking first about school, and then soccer was second.

But the environment that Bob Bradley and [current head coach] Jim Barlow have created there has meant that soccer has also been very important, and a very enjoyable process.

On how his experience in MLS has helped the Impact make the transition from the second division to the first division of the North American soccer hierarchy:

I think it’s been vital. I think that the organization understood that, that’s why they hired me.

So we’ve used a lot of my experiences, Mike Sorber’s experiences] Denis Hamlett’s experiences, Matt Jordan’s experiences,* and blended them with [owner] Joey [Saputo]’s vision and [sporting director] Nick De Santis’ experiences and vision vision.

Now I think we have created a really healthy atmosphere and foundation for our organization moving forward.

[Sorber, Hamlett and Jordan are Marsch's assistant coaches.]