Through the first ten games of D.C. United’s 2012 campaign,there was hardly a more steady presence along the Black-and-Red’s back linethan Robbie Russell. The veteran playedall but sixteen minutes before a hamstring strain forced him out of the lineup forD.C.’s early May trip to Toronto. Russell gutted out a ninety minute performance in Houston the next week,but – with his left leg still ailing – United’s first choice right back wasforced to miss two of the club’s last three MLS contests.
“I’m just trying to get my spot back and see if I can getback in the team,” said Russell, who started and played all 120 minutes in lastweek’s Open Cup loss to Philadelphia. “A big focus for us is we have to produce and play day in and dayout. That is a tough thing to do,especially with a team this young.”The youth of the back four is a primary reason Russell’sreturn is being hailed as a major boost for D.C.’s summer push. United allowed just three goals in thetwo matches Russell missed at the end of the club’s recent home stand, but itwas the nature of the tallies that gave cause for concern. All were second-half strikes andallowed both Toronto and New England avenues back into matches that seemed tobe decided.
Russell’s absence also opened up a right back by committeesituation that was less than ideal for a defensive group looking to gel. Chris Korb and Andy Najar showedpromise during their brief stints at the position, but the young duo simplycouldn’t replicate Russell’s most valuable trait.
“He brings a lot of experience,” Head Coach Ben Olsen saidafter Tuesday’s training session. “I think he not only helps the back four but he helps Andy and the guysin front of him. He is going tocontinue to do what he does for us and that is be a great pro and a key piecefor us.”
Recently, club president Kevin Payne was even more directwhen discussing Russell’s worth.
“He’s a man, he’s not a boy playing professional soccer,”Payne said of Russell, who is one of just four players on United’s roster tohave won an MLS Cup. “Heunderstands what it takes to be successful, that’s what he brings to the table.”