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On-point personnel

Russell the latest example of role player making an impact

Robbie Russell - 2012

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Getty Images

If the MCL injury to captain and 2011 MLS MVP Dwayne De Rosario was a rallying cry, then D.C. United’s response over the past two months has been one for the ages.

Since the Black-and-Red has taken to the field without De Rosario, the team has gone on an unbeaten run of 6-0-3.

Trite phrases like “everyone’s contributing” and “this is the epitome of team” have been thrown around, but here’s the thing about clichés: the reason that they resonate is because they are often true. In the 11 goals the squad has scored during its undefeated stretch, 11 different players have tallied either a goal or an assist. Defender Robbie Russell’s game-winning dish to midfielder Nick DeLeon to defeat the New York Red Bulls 1-0 on Thursday rendered Russell marksman number 11.

For United, clichés have now graduated to commonplace.

“I’ll say it again – this team has guys that produce from every rank and file,” Russell, who had not started a match since July 15, said. “Guys off the bench, guys who weren’t even on the 18 last week – it’s unbelievable. I hope it continues.”

Indeed, Russell is only the most recent of the unlikely reserve heroes who have taken turns producing wonder-moments. Midfielder Lewis Neal has conjured up his fair share of magic; he scored game-winning goals versus New England and Columbus, the latter strike being the one that propelled United to its first playoff berth since 2007. Branko Boskovic notched a game-winning goal, his first in MLS, against Chivas USA and provided the dish to Neal against the Crew. Goalkeeper Joe Willis entered Thursday’s game to save a Kenny Cooper penalty kick. The list goes on.

“That’s kind of the M.O. of this team right now and they continue to [bail guys out],” said Head Coach Ben Olsen. “When the chips are down, there’s a certain spirit about them, and it has nothing to do with me. These guys have just come together by themselves.”

Russell himself is no stranger to post-season heroics – his penalty kick conversion in 2009 was what won Real Salt Lake its first MLS Cup. On a team with limited post-season experience, Russell’s 11 overall starts in the playoffs have proven to be valuable.

“That’s the beauty of the playoffs – you’re ready for anything,” said Russell. “The excitement is one of those things – I don’t know if it’s adrenaline, you can’t explain it all the time – but it’s the playoffs and there’s nothing like it and you give it all you’ve got regardless.”