Jesse Marsch looked a little forlorn as he tramped across the field to congratulate his opponents and commiserate with his players on Tuesday night. It was not hard to see why: His Red Bull Salzburg team had been holding Bayern Munich with 12 minutes to play in their Champions League game. By the time Marsch stepped on the turf, head bowed, his team had lost, 6-2.
Sympathizing with any of the Red Bull teams — being, as they are, the sporting emissaries of a corporate empire — is a complex thing. As we wrote of RB Leipzig in August, they make imperfect underdogs. All they have to compete with the game’s elite, after all, is the backing of a $20 billion drinks empire, and some of the best facilities money can buy.
Still, it is hard not to feel as if Salzburg has given more to the Champions League than it has, thus far, received. Marsch’s team went toe-to-toe with Bayern Munich, the best side in Europe by some distance, for 80 minutes this week, and got nothing. It lost only at the last against Atlético Madrid the week before.
There is an element of déjà vu here: Last year, in its first Champions League group stage appearance, Salzburg lost narrowly to Napoli at home, took a point in Naples, and almost drew with Liverpool at Anfield. Only fine margins and an unkind draw separated Marsch and his team from a place in the last 16. The same fate, most likely, awaits Salzburg this season.
That is a shame, because this is a team that would hardly wilt in that rarefied company: a collection of emerging stars — with special mention for Dominik Szoboszlai — and a coach who encourages them to play adventurous, intense soccer. Marsch was, clearly, disappointed his team could not quite get over the line this week. He can take great pride, though, in how far they have come.
Thanks to Joe Klonowski, who saw in last week’s retelling of the Colombian Pirate League an echo of baseball’s Federal League. “The reserve clause was the maximum wage, holding wages down,” he wrote. “Joe Tinker, Edd Roush and Mordecai ‘Three Finger’ Brown” were baseball’s de Freitas, Rial and Di Stéfano, famous players who jumped to the outlaw league for better pay.