Friday, August 1, 2008

FOR REAL: Robbie Russell (Part I)


FOR REAL is a new segment for Keepin' It Real. It's meant to be a candid Q&A with players or coaches to give the fans a chance to find out more about them. We will solicit questions from fans so that you can get answers to what is on your mind.

The original intention was to get these answers via email, however in this case, I was able to meet with Robbie Russell face-to-face. I'm glad I did as I found him to be very well-spoken and very forthcoming. We will have to re-evaluate this for future installments.

Below I have attempted to capture his answers; the answers below may not be his exact words, but are a close summary of them. The audio file for this is of decent quality, and although it wasn't meant to be a podcast we will explore the possibility of making it available in its raw form. It's really quite compelling.

1. Explain your decision to not enter MLS initially, but instead go overseas. My father was an aid worker and we moved around a lot. I lived in Ghana, Sri Lanka, and all over the US. I was approached by an agent, Lyle Yorks, and he offered to send me on a couple of trials. I was just out of school, so why not. I got a contract with the first team that I went on trial with. Because my family is used to being a n international family, I never really felt like I was separated. My family was really good at supporting me, and so I just stayed.

2. You played in Iceland, Denmark and Norway. Which of those leagues did you like the most and why? I think I liked Norway the most. When I joined Rosenborg they were a Champions League team, and I got to play in group stages. I got to play against Real Madrid, well I was injured but I got to go to the stadium. I got to play against Arsenal and it was at Highbury. I just got to experience that World Class level of European football. So I had the best soccer memories of Norway. But also I felt that a lot of Norweigan people are very accepting and there is a lot of positive energy around the teams. The people in Iceland and Denmark are amazing too.

3. How much did you hear about MLS, and in particular RSL while you were in Europe? Honestly not much at all. The MLS doesn’t get much exposure. Until recently, with the acquisition of David Beckham. That whole media storm surrounding it. The money surrounding it. Up until this last year I had never seen an MLS game on television in Europe until they started showing Galaxy games. It seems like the league has just grown by leaps and bounds.

4. When did you have your first contact with RSL? And why did they become a club that you were interested in? I first contacted RSL about 6 or 7 months ago, so not during this European window, but the previous European window. It was at that time that my club in Denmark had been going through some transitions. I had met with the coaches, and they had had 3-4 coaches since I’d been there. Every time a new coach would come in, new players would come in. I had come from Rosenberg after an injury, and within 10 days that coach got fired. After the 3rd coach is when my playing time really declined. About 7 months ago I wanted to look for new clubs, but my wife had just come over. She had just started her job, and just started school to get her masters, so she couldn’t leave for at least a year. So RSL approached me during the window because I had made some grumblings in the press. At my age then I felt maybe it was time to come back to the States and maybe get a shot at the National team. So they approached me but I couldn’t go because my wife still had too much time left, and RSL said we’ll see what happens in the future. Luckily during the current window they were still interested.

5. Your wife’s family has a connection to Utah? Yes, my wife’s father went to medical school here like 25-30 years ago and comes back occasionally and they bought a house here to retire, but he was offered a position as a hospital administrator in LA so they stayed there. It’s a big part of being a nice initial setup here in Salt Lake.

6. Now how does that work with you coming back, you were interested in specifically RSL or just coming back to the league? There were a couple of teams that I was interested in, but RSL was the one that showed the most enthusiasm about. A lot of the other clubs, I mean I had been injured for so long and only played a couple of games in the 6 months before that I knew a lot of teams had forgotten about me. But RSL kept up with me, and that meant a lot to me. In Europe, if you are an American and you are out of favor with the coaches, it’s not like the press is going to get on the clubs case. So to me it was important to go with a club where there were people with enthusiasm who wanted me to be there, and RSL really showed that.

7. So how did that work with the league rules, was there an allocation? I didn’t find out about the allocation list until after I had decided to come to RSL. So all the sudden I had decided to come to RSL, and the league called a week later and said you can’t just sign with RSL. You have to sign with the league first and we don’t really know where you’ll end up, but we think you could end up with RSL. So at that point I had come on trial, but it was kept secret so that no other teams knew that I was on trial. And the 6 months of not playing first team football worked to my advantage, because the other teams had forgotten about me. Garth told me that he was trying to build up that I wasn’t a good player to all of the other managers. When I went back to train in Denmark to see what was going to happen, Garth told me not to score like 6 goals in a training game. Actually there was only one training game and I decided to sit it out. I had never experienced that kind of politics.

8. How much did the Duke connection come into play with this transfer? I assume so. Obviously I didn’t play with Jason or Garth, but I know that they spoke to John Rennie who was our coach. So I definitely got a recommendation from John to them, but I don’t know how much that played in their decision.

9. How about having your in-laws here, did that help in the decision? Yea, them being the most knowledgeable in my immediate circle (about Utah) that definitely helped. Also one of my best friends from Duke lives here, and she was full of recommendations and was very excited.

10. What about playing in Europe was there one memorable playing experience? Yes there were actually two in the same game. We were playing against Arsenal in Champions League and I got substituted in the last 30 minutes. I was up against Thierry Henry, and I tackled him pretty hard. I chopped him down. I also nutmegged Ashley Cole.

11. What was life like living in Norway? It was life. (Trey interjects that Nat Borchers complains about the food). Yea Scandinavian food is less favorable than here in the States. Norway especially has the most beautiful scenery and nature. The first club that I was at, Sogndal, which is one of the smallest clubs in Europe. It’s in this little town of 5,000 people that sits right on the edge of one of the largest fiords in Europe. So literally you walk out your door and look up at this cliff that goes straight up.

12. Which position is your favorite? I guess for most of my pro career I’ve played right back. I’ve always seen myself as a midfielder. My best contribution to the team may be a defender, but with time to learn the system and know the other players I could be an effective midfielder as well. But my first concern being a professional is to help the club in any way that I can.

13. Did you know any of the players before you came here? My only exposure was Dema Kovalenko when he was at Indiana. My freshman year we played Indiana in one of the first tournaments of the season. I didn’t remember him specifically but they had like 3 Ukrainian midfielders that dominated. That was one of my first memories from Duke.

14. What’s the probability of a return of the dreds? I’d have to say very unlikely. Unfortunately when I first got the dreds and my mom saw them, she cried. She was so upset that I got dreadlocks. Since then she is constantly reminding me that the dreadlocks should never happen again.