UCL analysis

Dest impresses, Marsch earns historic win, while injuries & DNPs limit others

Jesse Marsch has his Red Bull Salzburg team rolling and now he's breaking new ground for American coaches. Meanwhile, Sergino Dest continues to impress in Holland. But not nearly as many Americans played in the Champions League this week as possible. ASN's Brian Sciaretta reports
BY Brian Sciaretta Posted
September 18, 2019
1:00 AM
THE OPENING of the Champions League on Tuesday was a special day for Jesse Marsch and Sergino Dest as the two Americans saw the clubs post enormous victories to start their respective campaigns. For others, however, it was a missed opportunity either due to injuries or coaching decisions.

Here are a few thoughts on the first group stage games

Marsch’s historic win

In history of Americans abroad, there are several definitive groundbreaking moments. Some of the best examples are when DaMarcus Beasley became the first American to play in the semifinal of the UEFA Champions League, or when Clint Dempsey scored the first Premier League hat trick and hit 20 goals on a season, or when Christian Pulisic scored in the Champions League knockout stages.

On Tuesday, Red Bull Salzburg’s Jesse Marsch had one of these rare moments when he became the first American head coach to lead a team in the Champions League and come away with a resounding 6-2 win over Genk. It was a dominating and inspired performance for a Salzburg team that is buying into Marsch’s philosophy.

Norwegian teenager Erling Braut Haaland notched a hat trick for Salzburg. For those who followed the U-20 World Cup this summer, Haaland won the tournament’s Gold Boot by sole virtue of scoring nine goals in a 12-0 win over Honduras.

The numbers for Marsch are eye-opening. In the nine games he’s been in charge of Salzburg (seven games in the Austrian Bundesliga, one in the Austrian Cup, and one in the UEFA Champions League), the club has won every game while outscoring opponents 47-9 for a +38 goal differential. It’s averaging 5.2 goals scored per game and a 4.2 margin of victory.

This weekend the team will travel for a harder Austrian Bundesliga game away at third-place LASK. Then on October 2, it will visit Liverpool in its next Champions League game.

To have an American coach succeeding at this level is truly unprecedented and is indeed groundbreaking for American soccer.

Dest is solid in Ajax win

Sergino Dest got the start for Ajax in its 3-0 home win over Lille open up the group stage of its Champions League campaign. Overall, the 18-year-old was solid on the big stage and was defensively strong. Even when he made defensive mistakes, he did well to track back and break up chances.

Dest was the youngest player to play in this game between both teams. A young player starting for a club like Ajax is always going to get a lot of attention. The final product isn’t there but the potential is there for everyone to see.

He was able to get active in this game with 83 touches and 65 pass attempts – which he completed nearly 94%. That is a very high amount for a wide player. The more dangerous offensive opportunities will come sooner than later.

As for his international future, it remains up in the air. Dest admitted after the game he had yet to hear from Dutch manager Ronald Koeman – who was in New York. Dest was interested in the fact that Koeman was watching.

"Did he see it, yes?" Dest said after the game before adding, "But no, I haven't received a message from him."

With the U.S. national team having cap-tying games upcoming in October, it will be interesting how this plays out. It’s hard to see Dest switching for a Dutch youth call-up but it is easy to see him wanting to keep his options open.

Like Marsch, this was also groundbreaking for an American players as Pulisic became only the second American teenager to play in the group stages of the Champions League.

Between Marsch and Dest having milestone performances, it remains up in the air if either the coach or the fullback will ever make an impact with the U.S. national team.

Injuries and DNPs

The potential is there for this to be a banner year for Americans in the Champions League but many players were forced to watch for a variety of reasons.

Tim Weah missed out on Lille’s loss to Ajax due to his hamstring injury he suffered just before the international break.

Tyler Adams is still out for RB Leipzig (for what might now be a foot injury he suffered while rehabbing his adductor). But breaking back into the RB Leipzig starting lineup is going to be hard as the team is atop the Bundesliga and won its Champions League opener away at Benfica. That will put it in prime position to advance.

As expected, Ethan Horvath rode the bench for Club Brugge in a 0-0 draw at home against Galatasary. The Colorado native lost his starting spot to Simon Mignolet this summer.

The big question right now, however, is Christian Pulisic who went as an unused sub for Chelsea in a 1-0 loss at home to Valencia. When Mason Mount was forced out of the game with an injury, Frank Lampard went with Pedro Rodriguez instead. The next two substitutes were Oilver Giroud and Ross Barkley.

This is life at a biggest clubs in the world. While Borussia Dortmund might be better than Chelsea, Chelsea is bigger and this is what happens. Leashes are shorter, average performances send you to the bench, and it is a long road to getting more opportunities. The injury to Mount might open the door for Pulisic – especially when the team couldn’t muster a goal at home against Valencia. But the recent 5-2 win over Wolves without Pulisic also might not compel Lampard to make a switch. This weekend will feature a big game in London when Chelsea hosts Liverpool. It is far from certain Pulisic will play but if he does, it marks another enormous opportunity and the type he must seize sooner than later.

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