Russell Canouse playing against the Philadelphia Union on May 23, 2021. Credit: All-Pro Reels

When D.C. United hired Hernán Losada to be its new head coach prior to this season, the Argentine implemented a high-energy, high-pressing style that requires players to exert all their effort on the field. The system is not for everyone, and the club currently sits in seventh place in the Eastern Conference with a 8-3-10 record, but Russell Canouse, a 26-year-old midfielder, felt in his element.

“With Coach Losada coming in, I was super excited because I played in pressing systems in the past,” Canouse tells City Paper. “That’s what I grew up playing in Germany when I was at Hoffenheim.”

The Pennsylvania native played in Germany before returning to the U.S. and signing with DCU in 2017. Canouse has been a key player for United since his arrival, but this season, he’s found a playing style that suits his skills. United often creates offense through forcing turnovers from aggressive pressing. From his defensive midfield position, Canouse is the catalyst, snapping forward to win the ball when the opportunity arises.

“Everyone has that mindset to make that first pass forward, looking for that ball, and then also the runs that complement that,” he explains. “Being successful within transition, which we’ve done well this year, only happens if everyone’s on the same page and everyone can align to the same game plan, which is why it’s been exciting to play in the system.”

But as the numbers show, Canouse is doing far more than causing turnovers. Prior to an ankle injury that kept him out for a month, Canouse was leading Major League Soccer in total distance covered per game, recording 12.269 kilometers, or roughly 7.5 miles. Having now returned from injury, Canouse believes that number shows how well he’s adjusted to Losada’s system.

“A lot of those types of numbers and statistics may go unnoticed,” he says. “The amount of ground you cover, every single little detail of tracking back to close down space, or adding that extra number that opens up space for the attacking player or organizing the team from box to box, those sometimes go unnoticed, so it was kind of cool to see that.”

On its own, distance covered isn’t a stat that paints a full picture of a player’s contributions. Though he’s almost always in motion, Canouse knows he’s only valuable if he’s running with a purpose.

“It’s not just running around and trying to cover ground with your head cut off, I try to do it in a strategic manner,” he says. “To apply back pressure or get into the box or to defensively have an extra number so we can clear the ball out, or block a shot. Those are the things I take pride in.”

Though Canouse considers himself “naturally a pretty fit guy,” playing in Losada’s system and training to play in that system can take a lot out of even the fittest players and leave the unfit by the wayside.

“There’s a certain way you have to train and it was definitely a big change with Hernán coming in,” Canouse says. “It involves a lot of high-speed running and hitting those numbers in training that you need to to be able to do what we do on gameday.”

Outside of training, Canouse is looking to cover real estate in a different way than he does on the pitch. Canouse is a licensed real estate agent, looking to get started in a career outside of soccer long before his actual soccer career is likely to end.

One of his biggest deals to date came this offseason, when he served as his own agent and negotiated a home purchase for himself and his wife. Canouse isn’t sure if he’ll go into real estate after his soccer career ends but like he does on the pitch, he is looking to make sure he’s covering all possibilities. 

“I don’t even know what I’m going to do after soccer. It may be real estate, I may stay in the soccer industry, I may do something completely different,” Canouse says. “But at least I’m doing things now that put my thinking and my creative side of my personality to use. When I do come to that decision, whether it’s tomorrow or whether it’s 10 years down the line, I want to be prepared.”

Photo by All-Pro Reels, used under the Creative Commons BY-SA 2.0 license.