Russell Canouse - DC United - Close up

CHULA VISTA, Calif. — Russell Canouse believes he can be the holding midfielder the US men's national team need as they start on the path toward the 2022 World Cup, and his impact over a little less than a season and a half at D.C. United offers strong testimony that it could be so.

The 23-year-old from Lancaster, Pa., is in his second successive January USMNT camp, and his comfort level, confidence and aims have grown appropriately since Dave Sarachan blooded him a year ago. He impressed in his initial call-up but didn't make it off the bench in the Bosnia and Herzegovina friendly, so making that first appearance -- on Jan. 27 against Panama in Glendale, Ariz., he hopes -- is the carrot he's chasing.

“That's been a goal of mine. It's given me a lot of motivation this past year, too,” Canouse told this week from Chula Vista Elite Athlete Training Center. “Just playing with D.C. United, trying to grind out games and get results to make a run for the playoffs. but I, obviously, personally, have a bigger goal, and that's to become an impact player with the national team, too. The first cap is the first step in that process.”

Gregg Berhalter, conducting his first camp as US head coach, sees in Canouse someone who potentially could make the No. 6 role his own.

“Russell has a very specific position in terms of being that worker in front of the backline. That's what he excels at ...,” Berhalter said. “I think the first thing [that makes him unique within the pool] is that he has a tremendous workrate.

“When we're looking at his distance covered, in Major League Soccer, it's one of the top in the whole league. So he has a tremendous ability to cover ground, and that's important when you're playing in front of the defense.”

Canouse, who spent six years in Bundesliga club Hoffenheim's system, is strong, canny and possesses talent and vision, and he's been transformative for a D.C. team that's struggled to defend when he's not around. That was most apparent last year, when he missed the first half of the season after suffering a knee injury soon after joining his team following the US camp. In the 17 games before he made his first start, United were 3-9-5 and were outscored, 34-27. In his 17 starts, they were 11-2-4 with 33 goals and just 16 surrendered.

Much of the credit went to midseason addition Wayne Rooney, but Canouse's return to the lineup played a significant, if unheralded, role in the turnaround.

“Once he came back, it was like everything blended together perfectly ...,” said Paul Arriola, Canouse's D.C. and US teammate. “The sky's the limit, as long as he can continue to stay focused and push himself. I think he will. I know he will. Because that's the type of guy he is. He's a good guy. He's very humble, hard worker, wants to win, and those are the guys that you need on your team.”

Canouse left the New York Red Bulls' academy to join Hoffenheim's youth set-up when he was 15, and he progressed to the second team but made just one first-team appearance before a loan to second-tier Bochum. He came to D.C. United for regular playing time.

“Getting a good stretch of games at a good level [has helped my game],” he said. “And being able to bring myself back to the US and have people be aware of what kind of player I am and the impact I can bring on the field. ... It's been great in terms of development, just getting a lot of games, but also just being put on the map so I can get an opportunity like this.”