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Jesse Marsch, right, seen in 2008 with Chivas battling MLS star Landon Donovan, has been helping out the U.S. national team. ((Mark Avery/Associated Press))

The Montreal Impact will begin play in Major League Soccer under the direction of an ex-player with no experience as a head coach.

Montreal signed Jesse Marsch to a three-year deal Wednesday to guide the club when it makes the jump to the MLS next season.

The Racine, Wisc., native had been an assistant coach with the U.S. national squad since retiring as a player after the 2009 season and also has some university coaching experience.

The 38-year-old said he has had coaching on his mind for several years and was delighted to get the opportunity to help build an expansion MLS team from a club that has been a powerhouse in lower leagues for two decades.

"As soon as I established myself in MLS I wondered what coaching would be like," Marsch said. "I almost considered the latter part of my career like a research project.

"I was a leader on every team I was part of, I studied the game, I talked to a lot of good coaches, I took trips to Europe to meet with different clubs and see how they did things. So I've had my mind wrapped around this for a long time and I'm excited for this day and to get started."

Sporting director Nick De Santis will remain as interim coach for the rest of the Impact's dismal current season in the North American Soccer League. He replaced Marc Dos Santos 12 games into a campaign in which they were 3-10-6 going into a game Wednesday night against Tampa Bay.

For the rest of this season, Marsch will not be on the sidelines, but will watch the club and evaluate which players he wants to keep for MLS. He may occasionally ask that players be tried out in different positions or situations, but otherwise will leave coaching to De Santis.

He will also begin work on finding the players the Impact will need to try to be competitive from the outset in the higher division.

Team president Joey Saputo has no qualms about starting out with a rookie coach. He said a handful of first-time coaches in MLS history, including Frank Yallop with San Jose, were successful from the start.

And his own club's three Division-2 championships in 1994 (Valerio Gazzola), 2004 (De Santis) and 2009 (Dos Santos) were all won with rookie coaches.

"Rookie coaches don't scare us," Saputo said. "What's important for us is that he understands the league and he can build the team we need here.

"We have to start bringing in the players we feel will make the team successful. He's well-connected in North American soccer and in CONCACAF soccer. One of his jobs with the U.S. team was to scout teams in the CONCACAF region."

Impact officials would not say what other candidates were considered, although De Santis said one was Martin Rennie of the Carolina Railhawks, who signed on Tuesday with the Vancouver Whitecaps, who joined MLS this year. Like Marsch, Rennie will begin coaching his new team in 2012.

Marsch was one of three players to play in the first fourteen seasons of MLS. The midfielder started with DC United, then played for the Chicago Fire and Chivas USA. He was part of three MLS Cup and four US Open Cup winners.

He first spoke to the Impact about the job in March and said his signing was unrelated to the U.S federation's decision less than two weeks ago to replace his mentor, Bob Bradley, with Jurgen Klinsmann as national team coach.

"We had already had this discussion before they made the decision to move on with Bob," said Marsch. "Bob was always supportive of this venture.

"It's eerie how it worked out, but certainly I'm very excited."

Marsch will take time to settle his family in Montreal and begin work in earnest near the end of the month.

"They've established how this season is going and I think it's important for the team to have a fresh start going into MLS," he said. "So as much as I'd really like to start working with the players, I think it's important to have me observe so I can come in and make educated decisions on where the players are and what the team needs going forward."