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RB Leipzig v Stuttgart

'A special moment for U.S. football' - American coaches Marsch and Matarazzo take different paths to Bundesliga face-off

23:35 BST 19/08/2021
Marsch Matarazzo split
The two have had entirely different playing and coaching careers to this point as they prepare to make history on Friday

Over the years, the U.S. has exported players to Europe at an unprecedented level. Christian Pulisic, Gio Reyna, Tyler Adams, Weston McKennie... all have become stars, particularly in the Bundesliga, as the U.S. men's national team's young player pool is stronger than ever before.

But, on Friday, there will be another historic clash of Americans in the Bundesliga, and that clash won't be between players. Instead, it will be between coaches as two Americans will lead their teams against one another in Germany's top flight.

On Friday, Jesse Marsch and RB Leipzig will face Pellegrino Matarazzo's Stuttgart in the second game of their Bundesliga seasons. It will be the first time ever two American coaches have gone head-to-head in the Bundesliga and, by any measure, will serve as a landmark moment for the American game.

While American players have begun to earn respect in Europe in recent years, few  U.S.-born coaches have truly been given the chance abroad.

Current USMNT boss Gregg Berhalter coached Hammarby, becoming the first American to coach in Europe, but was dismissed before reinventing his philosophy in MLS. Bob Bradley earned his chance at the Premier League with Swansea after great stints with Le Havre and Stabaek but lasted just weeks before being dismissed without a transfer window. Others, like David Wagner, rose through the European game with a bit more respect thanks to their dual-national status.

Now, Marsch and Matarazzo are the standard-bearers for American-born coaches in Europe. As Matarazzo put it to Bild: "This is a special moment for U.S. football."

The connections between the two date back years, even if they've taken very different paths to the top of German soccer. Both played Ivy League soccer in the 90s, Marsch for Princeton and Matarazzo for Columbia, before taking their careers in different directions.

Marsch became a reliable midfielder in MLS, earning two caps with the USMNT before eventually emerging as one of the top coaching minds in the league with the New York Red Bulls. That Red Bull affiliation led him to Salzburg, where he managed the likes of Erling Haaland, and, ultimately, Leipzig as he took charge of the Bundesliga contenders this summer.


Matarazzo, meanwhile, spent his entire career abroad, never playing in MLS or earning a cap for the USMNT as he remained largely out of the public eye in America right up until his Stuttgart appointment. He ended his playing days with Nurnberg before working his way through the club's coaching ranks from the youth level right on up. 

He eventually became an assistant for Hoffenheim and, in 2019, he was named Stuttgart's head coach, leading them to a ninth-place finish last season after earning promotion the year prior.

"Rino and I have a little bit of history," Marsch told the Bundesliga's website. "We played against each other at university in the U.S. He’s pretty much German at this point even though his name is completely Italian. His German is really good, he’s done a very good job with Stuttgart."

Matarazzo, meanwhile, says he knows what to expect from Marsch, who has spent the last six years defining Red Bull's style across three different continents.

“Of course, it’s not going to be very far from the Red Bull style of football," he said. "I haven’t looked in great detail at what the structure will be like this season, but I assume it will be relatively similar to Salzburg and RB Leipzig. This will mean a high press and a very direct way at aiming towards goal."

In terms of stakes, RB Leipzig head into Friday's game after losing their season-opener: a 1-0 defeat to Mainz. Losing twice in a row to start the season would be catastrophic for the club's title hopes, as they look to compete with Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund atop the league once again.

Stuttgart, meanwhile, cruised to a 5-1 victory over Greuther Furth in their first game as Matarazzo's side currently sits atop the league after one week.

Two men that met in college years ago are now leading two of Germany's top teams against one another after taking entirely different paths to this point. But, in the end, both paths led them to this moment and regardless of how Friday's clash plays out, it will be a memorable match for those that follow American soccer.

"I'm excited to see him again and just congratulate him for what a great job he's been doing," Matarazzo told ESPN.

"Certainly, the paths are different paths. I don't know if I would call myself a trailblazer as I'm not the first. Joe Enochs comes to mind who also played in Germany. I think it's definitely a path someone can take: play overseas, stay for a while, pretty much just work your ass off and sacrifice everything that meant anything to you in the world and get to where you can. I think it's definitely a possibility.

"But paths are different and I'm excited to see Jesse at the game."

Added Marsch: "As an American, I’m very proud of the success he has had... I hope that back home in the U.S. it will also be a special day where two quality coaches have the chance to play against each other on a first league level."