There was absolutely no shortage of drama over the weekend for Americans playing and coaching in Europe. A trio of Americans took part in two of the biggest European games that Americans have ever participated in, with Catarina Macario and Lindsey Horan starting for Lyon in their 3-1 win in the Champions League final against Barcelona on Saturday and Jesse Marsch managing Leeds in the final game of their relegation escape on Sunday.
As far as situations go, a Champions League final against Barcelona and a relegation-decider against Brentford couldn’t be any more different. Still, both games had undeniable stakes.
TWO USWNT PLAYERS WIN THE CHAMPIONS LEAGUE
For Macario and Horan, the game against FC Barcelona presented them with the chance to help Lyon win their sixth Champions League title in the last seven years. However, between Lyon and their trophy stood maybe the most dominant team in women’s soccer history. This season, Barcelona finished their domestic campaign with a plus 148 goal difference. Plus 148! They had only lost once all season heading into Saturday’s final and they were heavy, heavy favorites to beat Lyon and claim their second consecutive Champions League trophy.
Though many of the pre-game signs pointed to a Barcelona win, Lyon raced out ahead, scoring three goals inside the first 33 minutes. Macario, a genuine star for both her club team and the U.S. women’s national team, capped off Lyon’s scoring flurry with the goal that put her team up 3-0 in the first half.
While Macario influenced the game from an attacking midfield position, Horan added control from slightly deeper in midfield. Both players provided real energy and obvious quality against a strong opponent in Lyon’s 3-1 win.
“You can probably see it on my face. You know, this is what I dreamed of ever since I was a little girl,” Horan said after the game.
The match was a genuine spectacle between two of the best women’s soccer teams of all time. Getting to watch a pair of Americans participate in the final – and upset Barcelona – was truly special.
MARSCH AND LEEDS ESCAPE RELEGATION
This weekend was special for Marsch in an entirely different way. His Leeds United team didn’t play for or win a trophy, and yet the manager still found himself at the bottom of a celebratory dogpile. Thanks to their 2-1 win over Brentford on Sunday (and some help from Newcastle), Leeds avoided relegation from the Premier League.
When he was hired in late February, Marsch became just the third American to ever coach in the Premier League and was given the sizable task of stopping Leeds United’s free-fall. Before Marsch arrived, Leeds had lost five of their previous six games under Marcelo Bielsa and were within a couple points of the relegation places. Leeds’ open, man-oriented defensive system was killing them and inching them closer and closer to a return trip to the Championship.
Things weren’t drastically better under Marsch, but they were better. Per FBref, Leeds’ xG differential improved once the American took over. We’re not talking about an “oh my goodness, this team is actually good now” type of improvement. But we are talking about an “oh my goodness, this team might actually avoid getting relegated despite letting teams run right through them for the first six months of the season” type of improvement.
For Leeds, that improvement was just enough to rescue their season – and their next season, too.
Speaking of which, it looks like their American connections are going to run even deeper in 2022-23. The USMNT’s Brenden Aaronson is reportedly headed to Leeds United for a fee that would make him one of the most expensive American players ever. Marsch, Aaronson, and Leeds will all hope that next season isn’t quite as dramatic as this one was.
In the meantime, though, Leeds can take a deep breath. And so can Jesse Marsch.