There are rude welcomes, and then there is the fixture list Jesse Marsch walked into when he became coach of the Canada men’s national team in March. 

Marsch’s first two games as Canada’s new boss were friendlies against 2022 FIFA Men’s World Cup runner-up and 2018 winner France and fellow European powerhouse The Netherlands. His third was the 2024 Copa América opening match on June 20 against Argentina — the defending Copa América and World Cup champion who beat France in the 2022 final.

But Canada has embraced those challenges under Marsch, the American manager known for his aggressive, counter-pressing tactics — though Marsch admitted in an exclusive interview with Jimmy Conrad on “FOX Soccer NOW” that it was a daunting schedule to assume.

“I was thinking, ‘Why did I take this job with those three opponents [coming] up?’” Marsch joked. “I knew when I took the job that that the schedule was going to be very difficult — and by the way, put [other Copa América Group A opponents] Peru and Chile in there as well — the first five opponents I knew were going to be very difficult. 

“But I thought that it would give us a chance to create really high standards for how we wanted to play and that these games would show the players that we need to uphold ourselves to very high standards. I felt that if we could execute, then we could have some success.”

Marsch’s hunch has proved correct. Canada not only advanced out of the group stage at its first-ever Copa América, but also did so when traditional CONCACAF powers Mexico and the United States did not.

“There’s real excitement in Canada about the team and the way we’ve played,” Marsch said. “That comes with, I think, a real hunger to keep this thing moving forward.”

Marsch, a Wisconsin native, interviewed for the U.S. coaching job last spring before Gregg Berhalter was re-hired and recently criticized how he was treated by his native country’s soccer federation in that interview process. While Marsch didn’t delve any further into his experience with the USMNT, he shared his thoughts on the team’s unceremonious exit from Copa América as a former player and a fan.

“I would love to say I’m just focused on what we’re doing here in Canada, but obviously, I’m paying attention, as always, to the U.S. men’s national team and, like you, I’m sad,” Marsch told Conrad. “I’m disappointed by the performances, by the lack of discipline. There’s a lot of things that I think we’ve tried to be about, about the game in the U.S., and we’ve always believed in this group of players.

“Because I’m not there every day, I don’t have my finger on the pulse of exactly what’s going on but, certainly, it’s not what we had expected before this tournament. And somehow, they’ve got to come up with solutions.”

Marsch did make one thing clear, though: he has no complaints about which side side of the border he ended up on.

“I’ll tell you: I’m glad I’m here, man,” Marsch said. “Because the people that I work with and the players that I work with, the things that we know that we can achieve together, the support that we have from inside the country, the support system for this entire national team is so positive, so I think it gives us a real chance to develop something and build something and be ready for a big tournament come 2026.”

Is the USMNT back to square one after rock bottom Copa América group-stage exit? | Copa Tonight

Canada lost 2-0 to a heavily favored, Lionel Messi-led Argentina side in the Copa América opener, but then beat Peru 1-0 and drew against 2016 Copa América winner Chile to secure a runner-up spot in Group A and advancement to the quarterfinals. Conrad complimented Marsch for setting the tone with an aggressive first half against Argentina that helped keep the No. 1 men’s team in FIFA’s world rankings off the scoresheet until late in the game.

Still, Marsch is aware of his squad’s shortcomings over his first five games in charge, mainly on the offensive half of the field.

“We’ve also only scored one goal,” Marsch pointed out. “So we’re trying to find ways to be more proficient in our attack, and we’re trying to continue to be a well-rounded team. But I think there’s been real discipline, I think there’s been real belief and excitement about what we’re doing as a team. We still have, so far to go to become the team that I really want us to be, but what I’ve learned is that you can implement a style on a national team, and if you’re precise about the details, and you implement things step by step, and you’re careful about how you instruct the team what you want to be and how you’re going to get there, then you can have success with it.

“It also is a statement about these players — their smarts, their desire to learn, their desire to achieve and become the kind of team that we are trying to build here — is at a really high level and in a one month time period, we’ve come a long way together.”

Next up, Canada has a quarterfinals match against another surprisingly strong side at this Copa América — Group B winner Venezuelaat 9 p.m. ET Friday on FS1 and the FOX Sports App.

“It’s a gonna be a dogfight,” Marsch said. “It’s a team that has talent, that has physicality, that also plays with a lot of tactical discipline [and] is very hard to score against. 

“We know we’re in for a tough match. We expect them to be at their best in this game. We know it’s a big moment for both teams, and we’re excited about it. So more than anything, we just want to be ready to go out on Friday night and deliver our best and then see how it holds up in a moment like this.”

In the long term, Marsch believes that Canada is only scratching the surface of what it can accomplish under his leadership. 

“I showed [the team] a lot of the transition moments and moments that we had with the ball where we’re creating chances, and we’re having the right behaviors,” Marsch said. “We’re committing to try to do the right things in the last third. It’s going to come, I have no doubt. Maybe it’s in the form of a breakout game, or maybe it’s just in the form of the momentum building as we continue to grow as a team. But this is a team with a lot of attacking weapons, and I know from coaching good players and coaching this type of football that over time, the law of averages is that we will score plenty of goals.”

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