D.C. United defender Robbie Russell will be retiring from soccer after Sunday’s match to start the next chapter of his life at Georgetown University Medical School. The talented veteran had always planned on attending medical school, but soccer took him on a different route—a route that included Iceland, Denmark, Salt Lake City, and of course, D.C.
Russell, 33, attended Duke University from 1997-2000, starting 73 of the 75 games, notching 12 goals and registering 21 assists during his collegiate career. In 1999, the All-ACC Team defender helped lead the Blue Devils to an ACC Championship, anchoring the defense and earning Second-Team All-ACC honors.
After college, Russell’s career path didn’t lead him straight to Major League Soccer, but to Iceland, where he appeared for a brief time with Breidablik, a team in the Icelandic First Division. From there, the defender played three years for the Norwegian First Division side Sogndal I.L. Russell made 63 appearances and impressed Rosenborg BK enough to sign with the club. While there, Russell helped win the First Division Championship in 2004. He also became one of a short list of Americans to feature in the UEFA Champions League, adding to his impressive soccer resume.
After playing 31 games for the Danish club Viborg FF, Russell returned to the U.S. and signed with Western Conference powerhouse Real Salt Lake in 2008, where he spent the majority of his career.
“Salt Lake was a great time for me,” said Russell. “It is a club that is very close to my heart. Any club that you have a lot of success with, you feel an extra bond to. But it was also a really special group of guys.”
That special team won an MLS Cup in 2009, beating the Los Angeles Galaxy in penalty kicks. Russell hit the Cup-clinching PK, which is only one reason he will forever be remembered at RSL.
"Not only was Robbie a great player, but he was an even better person,” said Real Salt Lake midfielder Kyle Beckerman. “He'll always have a place in the hearts of the RSL family for the hard work he put in and of course for his penalty he took to win the MLS Cup 2009."
Goalkeeper Nick Rimando would also remember Russell for all the positive qualities he brought to the Real Salt Lake squad as well as for the all-important penalty kick, although maybe not for the same reasons as Beckerman.
“[Robbie is] one of the smartest, most unselfish, and worst-dressed players I ever played with,” said Rimando. “And although his last PK in 2009 was memorable, it's his Brandi Chastain celebrations that I'll miss. Good luck in your next adventure bud."
All joking aside, Head Coach Jason Kreis explains the talented defender will be remembered for all four years of hard work he dedicated to the club, not only for 2009.
“He will be forever remembered for his 2009 MLS Cup-Winning penalty kick,” said Kreis, “but his true contributions were much more thorough, impressive, and long-lasting than that one kick. His legacy at RSL can and will never be forgotten.”
Russell left his mark on Real Salt Lake and signed with D.C. United in 2012, playing 20 games in Black-and-Red since then. Russell’s experience in big games was evident when he stepped in for a suspended Andy Najar against the New York Red Bulls on November 8th. Russell played Nick DeLeon in behind the Red Bull defense, assisting the game winning goal—that goal sent United through to the Eastern Conference Finals.
More impressive than his accomplishments on the field, though, are his contributions to the club as a whole. Although Russell was only with United for a little over a year, he has made an impact on everyone within the organization.
“Robbie has had a wonderful career, and we as an organization were lucky to play a small part in it,” said D.C. United Head Coach Ben Olsen. “He has helped mold our young players and has left, in a short time, a big imprint on this club.”
D.C. United players will miss Russell on and off the field, and like those at Real Salt Lake, admire his personality and character just as much as his athletic ability.
“I just want to congratulate him on a fantastic career,” said D.C. United midfielder Chris Pontius. “Not only is he a great player, but he’s a great person, and that means just as much to me.”
United center back Dejan Jakovic agrees that Russell will be missed, labeling his fellow defender a mentor and a leader.
“I want to wish Robbie Russell all the best in the future,” said Jakovic. “He’s definitely been a really positive mentor since he has come to D.C… We’re going to miss him.”
The talented defender has helped lead, mold, and grow clubs just by simply being himself. He understands his career is storied and special, but is ready to close the book on Robbie Russell, the professional soccer player.
“I’m very happy with my career,” said Russell. “I got to see some strange corners of the world, I got to meet some really interesting people, and I got to hoist the trophy a couple times; that was cool. All in all, it was just one of those things where the time felt right to leave because of the fact that I have accomplished what I set out to do.”
Although ready to move on to medical school, Russell admits the emotions of leaving the game he loves are beginning to creep up on him.
“Every training, every game, it’s a countdown to the last one, and every one is a little bit more emotional,” he said. “At trainings now, I look around and I realize I’m not going to see these guys everyday, and that’s tough.”
Although “a little bit scared” to take on medical school, the veteran is excited and up for the challenge. Before he says goodbye, though, Russell wanted to make sure he said a special thank you to a special group of people very close to his heart.
“I’d also like to say a big thank you to all the fans,” Russell said. “Being able to play this game for the fans, with the fans, I feel like they become family. They make it fun.”