Players, fans and media who cover the team were all surprised when team president Joey Saputo announced Saturday morning that Marsch was out as head coach despite leading the expansion squad to a better-than-expected 12-16-6 record.
Team management had been emphatic at a season-ending news conference this week they were satisfied with Marsch's work, and he continued to run practices as the squad prepared for its Nov. 5-17 trip to Italy for friendly games against Italian Serie-A clubs Bologna and Fiorentina.
But the team sent out notice Friday night it would make a major announcement. Then they informed the players in their locker room Saturday morning that Marsch was out.
''We were getting ready for practice and then we saw everybody coming into the room,'' said midfielder Patrice Bernier. ''We knew there was a press conference, but then they told us the coach wouldn't be back. It was a surprise and a shock because you don't expect that.''
Saputo said philosophical differences with Marsch had set in over how the team would be run and so the two sides had agreed to part ways.
''This is not a dismissal or a resignation,'' Saputo said.
Marsch, a rookie head coach who turns 39 on Thursday, did most of the work to put the team together for its entry into MLS.
The Racine, Wisc., native then saw the squad change drastically in personnel and style of play through the season, sparked by management's recruiting of European veterans like Italian Serie-A stars Marco Di Vaio and Alessandro Nesta.
Saputo declined to go into what differences of opinion existed between them, but admitted that a schism between the European and North American elements on the club ''may be one reason.
''I won't say it's the only reason. You have to look at the long term process.''
Marsch was guarded at the news conference, but wore the defiant look of someone who wasn't about to abandon his beliefs to keep a job.
He thanked the team and the fans and called the move ''the right decision.
''I'm leaving the club by mutual agreement. I had several discussions with Joey and (sporting director) Nick (De Santis) on how we could make it work and the conclusion was that this amicable split is the best solution for the club going forward.
''Looking ahead, we realized that although we had the same goals, we did not share the same philosophy.''
Marsch, who played 14 seasons in MLS for D.C. United, Chicago and Chivas USA, was signed on Aug. 10, 2011 after working as an assistant coach with the U.S. national team.
He oversaw the expansion draft and made deals to land players like energetic midfielder Davy Arnaud, who became team captain, and Brazilian midfielder Felipe Martins.
At the same time, Saputo and De Santis were bringing in Europeans like defender Matteo Ferrari and striker Bernardo Corradi.
All deny there were rifts between players from the two schools of soccer — the physical, straight-ahead American and the skill-based European — but something was amiss as the team's playoff hopes vanished in an 0-2-3 finish to the campaign.
''We're sad about Jesse, but in football, things happen,'' said Ferrari. ''Probably they were thinking of a different kind of football than Jesse proposed during the season.
''And probably they decided it was not enough because, they say we had a great season because it was our first season, but personally, the truth is, with the team we have, we should go to the playoffs this season. We didn't, so the club was thinking like I think. But that doesn't mean the fault is Jesse's. It's all the team.''
The Impact threw away too many points this season, particularly by giving up a league-worst 17 goals in the final 15 minutes of games.
And Marsch proved to be fiery, if well-dressed, presence on the sidelines who was fined twice and suspended one game for disputing officials' calls.
But he was popular with fans and the media. He hired a French tutor before the season and by the end, granted an interview in French on a local TV station.
It was less of a shock that goalie coach Preston Burpo and conditioning coach Adam Rotchstein were also axed. Former MLS goalkeeper of the year Donovan Ricketts was a major bust in Montreal and was traded in mid-season for Troy Perkins.
De Santis said the team would take it's time finding a new head coach. For now, it will be run jointly by remaining assistants Mike Sorber, Denis Hamlett and Mauro Biello, with help from under-21 squad coach Philippe Eulloffroy. He said the team will consider promoting from within as well as looking outside for a new coach.
It was a surprise that Sorber survived the changes, as he was brought in by Marsch after they worked together with the U.S. squad.
''You come with your qualities and abilities and you do your best,'' said Sorber, a former U.S. international midfielder. ''That's what I did every day and unfortunately for Jesse and the club, something went down there.
''Now the club has said they still feel I'm an important part here, so I have to continue to put my best foot forward and try to make this team successful.''
Marsch said he does not have another job lined up yet.