2002 Jul 17

From the South County Journal printed edition:

Russell getting his kicks

Former Sounder now contributing for Earthquakes

By Mark Moschetti
Journal reporter

SEATTLE - Ian Russell wasn't within an entire ocean of playing in last Month's World Cup.

But the afterglow of the United States' unprecedented success on Soccer's grandest stage has the former University of Washington and Seattle Sounders star thinking big while currently getting his kicks with the San Jose Earthquakes of Major League Soccer.

"For me personally, it has just motivated me - I want to get a shot at the national team," Russell said yesterday after practicing with the Earthquakes at Interbay Stadium for tonight's third-round U.S. Open Cup game against the Sounders. "And overseas clubs see now that Americans can play. I want to try overseas, maybe, when my contract is up."

Russell will have the rest of this season and all of next season to give that some thought. For now, he has plenty of motivation just to get into today's 7 p.m. game against the team he shined for in 1999 before joining San Jose and becoming a regular in the country's top league.

"The nucleus of that team I played on is still here," he said.

How much time he gets - if any - hinges on how his strained right calf is feeling as game time approaches. Russell didn't go through the same intense workout as his teammates yesterday, spending much of the time kicking a ball around with U.S. World Cup player Jeff Agoos, who has a strained right calf of his own and is not expected to see action tonight.

"I think I'll get some time - I want to play," Russell said. "It's going to kind of depend on my trainer. I ran today, and it felt really good." That's not the only thing that has Russell feeling good. When not injured, he usually starts for the team that has the best record in MLS (10-6-2) and is the defending MLS Cup champion.

Selected in the fifth round of the MLS draft after helping push the Sounders into the second round of the 1999 A-League playoffs with 16 goals and nine assists, Russell became an impact player right away with the Earthquakes. He started 20 of the 28 games he played in 2000, registering two goals and seven assists.

But San Jose didn't know the way to the win column - or at least not very often. The Earthquakes had the worst record in the then-12-team league, going 7-17-8 for 29 points. Their 35 goals were nine fewer than the next-lowest offensive team.

Then came last year's turnaround. A new coach in Frank Yallop. New players in Agoos and Donovan. And an unexpected start in their season opener against rival Los Angeles.

"We went up 3-0 in the first 30 minutes," Russell said. "We got into the locker room (at halftime) and nobody said anything. We didn't know what was going on.

"We thought we had a good team. But we didn't realize we were going to be so good."

A 12-game unbeaten streak erased any doubts. Russell did his part as the Earthquakes' second-leading scorer, contributing three goals and nine assists. Not only did San Jose make the playoffs for the first time since 1996, it went all the way to the MLS Cup. The Earthquakes beat L.A. in overtime, 2-1, and Russell earned an assist on the game-tying goal in the 43rd minute.

Worst to first - all in a year's time.

"I've had both ends of the spectrum," Russell said.

Although his numbers might not seem spectacular, Russell is a threat just for his speedy runs down the wing, his ability to get up and down the field and to play either side of midfield. Of the 14 games he has played this season, he has started 11, registering two assists.

"I feel like I've developed a lot as a player," Russell said. "I understand the league and the game better. It's a faster-paced game (than in the A-League). I have to think quicker."

Faster on his feet could be just what Russell needs to get that shot at the national team.

And perhaps get over the ocean for the next World Cup.