CASA GRANDE, Ariz. – Seeing veteran Robbie Russell in anything besides the Claret-and-Cobalt of Real Salt Lake has been one of the stranger sights of MLS preseason training thus far.
And yet there he was in D.C. United white, manning his usual spot at right back Saturday afternoon in United’s preseason match against Sporting Kansas City. KC won 2-1, with both teams playing mainly regulars for 60 minutes and reserves and youngsters for 30.
Russell admitted his new situation is a bit strange even to him, especially since D.C. and RSL stayed in the same Phoenix area hotel and trained at the same complex of fields earlier in the week. They also play each other in a friendly on Tuesday in Arizona.
“It was almost like being in preseason with them,” Russell said of RSL, from whom he was traded for a third round SuperDraft pick in 2013. “It was awkward where I’m going down to get taped in the training room and I run into like, three of their team. But they’re great guys and it was a lot of fun.”
Russell, the man who scored the decisive penalty for Real Salt Lake against the LA Galaxy in the 2009 MLS Cup final in Seattle, said everyone hopes to find a place where he can spend his whole playing career, but it isn’t so easy to achieve.
“It seems to be kind of a trend in MLS, that… after about three years [teams] have to kind of rotate out,” Russell said after his 60 minutes were complete. “That was kind of the situation in Salt Lake. They were having some salary cap problems and they had to let some guys go, which is okay. It’s part of the business and me being an older guy, I can understand that aspect.”
Russell welcomed the move from a personal standpoint – his wife and other members of his family are in Maryland and Virginia. He said it’s exciting to be out on the pitch with a new group of guys, and as a 32-year-old veteran of four previous MLS seasons after eight in Scandinavia, Russell is being asked to lead a new-look back line.
“It’s really a learning process, spending this time just kind of getting to know each other and getting to see how we’re going to play,” Russell said. “Every game and every practice and every training session we spend together is another step in the right direction.”
United head coach Ben Olsen said that outside of the goal by SKC’s Graham Zusi from a set piece in the 35th minute, his first unit – missing six key regulars including returning league MVP Dwayne De Rosario (groin) – played well.
“It shows a little bit about our depth right now,” Olsen said. D.C. opened with Bill Hamid in goal, a back line of Russell, Dejan Jakovic, Emiliano Dudar and Daniel Woolard, two holding midfielders in Marcelo Saragosa and Perry Kitchen, Andy Najar and Nick DeLeon on the wings and trialist Ryan Richter up top with Maicon Santos.
Jose Burciaga Jr., a veteran out of MLS since 2009, scored United’s lone goal in the 77th minute, knocking in a cross having pushed forward from his left back position. Burciaga, a former KC player, was with United as a guest player, according to a team spokesman.