Leeds United and the American Revolution

Marsch and Aaronson, pictured here, have helped start an American revolution of sorts in the English Premier League. // Photo courtesy of Chris Bauer Getty Images

There is a revolution taking place in the Premier League led by the most unlikely people: Americans. The turning of the tide is taking place in Leeds, a town where carbonated water was invented as well as being known for a soccer team that was last relevant in the top flight in the 1990s. The Americanization of Leeds United started at the end of February 2022, when they appointed manager Jesse Marsch, an American soccer player turned coach.

Marsch’s story started as a player best known for his time at the Chicago Fire and Chivas USA in the MLS but then promptly started his coaching career with the Montreal Impact. After one season, he arguably made the biggest move of his coaching career by moving to the New York Red Bulls. He was highly successful as the manager of the New York Red Bulls and thanks to Red Bull’s vast collection of clubs all over the world, he was able to make the move to Austria where he managed Red Bull Salzburg and won the league and domestic cup double for both of the years that he was there. Thanks to his massive success in Austria, he then moved to RB Leipzig and after a short spell in Germany which did not go to plan, he made the move to England with Leeds United.

Leeds at the time of Marsch’s appointment were in danger of getting relegated and he steered them to safety, completing his first partial season in the Premier League. Despite staying in the Premier League, it became abundantly clear that the Leeds squad was in desperate need of reinforcements. The need for players became even more apparent when they lost their best player, Raphinha, to Barcelona. Marsch recognized the problem and looked back into his past to bring in Americans Brenden Aaronson and Tyler Adams as well as developing former MLS star
Jack Harrison.

Aaronson first encountered Marsch when they were both at Red Bull Salzburg, and Aaronson played a key role in Marsch’s success in Austria, but like most U.S. soccer players, he started in the MLS academy system with the Philadelphia Union. He quickly rose through the ranks and made his MLS debut in March 2019. The very next season, he was a member of the MLS Best XI as well as leading the Union to the Supporters Shield. 

After one successful season in the MLS, RB Salzburg bought Aaronson for a record transfer fee for a homegrown American player. The Marsch/Aaronson combination at RB Salzburg was a resounding success, so when Marsch came to Aaronson this summer to join Leeds, it was an offer Aaronson could not refuse. Aaronson’s relentless energy and hard work at the front were qualities that Marsch values.

Joining Aaronson at Leeds is his USMNT teammate Tyler Adams, who, like Aaronson, also has experience working under Marsch, but this time with both New York Red Bulls and RB Leipzig. Similarly to Aaronson, Adams started his career in the MLS and moved over to Europe, but the main difference between the two has to do with their playstyle. Although Adams is just as tenacious and hardworking as Aaronson, Adams is more of a distributor and provides more cover for the defense. 

Marsch’s approach is not only about bringing in new players, but also improving the players that are already on the team, and this is especially true with Jack Harrison. Unlike Aaronson and Adams, Harrison is not American, but he was developed and brought up using the U.S. system. First moving from his home in England to a boarding school in the U.S. and proceeding to play for Wake Forest, he would eventually get drafted into the MLS with the first overall pick and play for New York City FC (NYCFC). After doing well for NYCFC, he eventually made the move across to Europe where he spent most of his time playing for Leeds. Like Aaronson, Harrison is a relentless, hard-working forward who starts defending from the front as well as providing some flair to the side and has developed into a bigger role this season thanks to the departure of Raphinha. 

With the new additions, Leeds United got off to a good start to the season, currently sitting ninth place in the league with six games played. This uptick in form from last year is in no small part due to both Marsch and the players that he has brought in. Leeds are playing some of the most attractive soccer in the Premier League with their high pressing and counter attacking style making for some of the most entertaining and end-to-end games in the league.

Their playstyle is attractive and has yielded some massive results for the club — the most notable being the 3–0 win over Chelsea, a team that is just two years removed from winning the Champions League. Leeds’ playstyle under Marsch can best be described by their first goal in the Chelsea match. It started off with Leeds losing possession, but as soon as they lost it, the whole team began to press. Aaronson eventually pressures Chelsea’s goalkeeper into making a mistake, leading to an easy tap-in for Aaronson’s first goal for the club. The energy was not only seen by the team’s constant running but also by Marsch on the touchline — it looks as if he is playing as much as every player on the pitch and celebrating as if he scored. Leeds’ improvement in play and results has made them much watch TV. NBC, the Premier League rights holder in the US, agrees with that assessment with Leeds playing on the USA channel — instead of their streaming service Peacock — over the likes of Manchester United, Manchester City and the other mega clubs in the Premier League.

The increased public interest in Leeds is only a good thing for U.S. soccer. With more people than ever watching the Premier League and seeing people that they can relate to, the popularity of soccer will only increase. For many years now, the U.S. Men’s National Team has had subpar performance after subpar performance with that eventually leading them to miss the World Cup in 2018. But with the new crop of young players doing well across Europe, it is proving that U.S. soccer is slowly developing more talent and can eventually compete in future World Cups.