The name Russell Canouse might not be the huge-name defensive midfielder D.C. United supporters had started to hope for, but the US under-20 standout has plenty of links to his new club. Canouse was one of four players the Black-and-Red brought in near the conclusion of the MLS transfer window. Canouse was set to begin his second year on loan at 2.Bundesliga side VfL Bochum from Hoffenheim, until United came calling.
Those links include being a high school teammate of goalkeeper Travis Worra. He has played along side one of United’s other new signings, Paul Arriola, since his early teen years in the youth national team set-up. Plus, the Lancaster, PA native and his dad would drive south to D.C. to cheer on the Black-and-Red during Canouse’s youth.
“Being a kid, back in 2003 and 2004, my dad brought me down here to games at RFK Stadium,” Canouse said during an introductory press conference on Thursday. “I remember going and seeing Ben [Olsen] as a player, and Freddy Adu, and those guys. Coming back, standing out there in the stadium, being able to walk out on the field, it was pretty special.”
During this transfer window, enough rumors were flying around for it to be obvious that United were searching for help at the defensive midfield position. But as other, higher-profile options didn’t pan out, United got in touch with Canouse, quickly making a deal that made sense for both sides.
Canouse had been with Hoffenheim since 2011. He played mostly for their reserve team, but featured once for the first team as a substitute, back in the spring of 2016. This part year, he spent the season on loan at Bochum, playing regularly. But when United got in touch, he made the tough choice to leave Germany and come back to the United States.
“It was the past week,” Canouse told B&RU, of when United reached out to him. “This weekend we got everything finalized, going into the deadline. There was some stress. I’m glad it got done. Everyone was professional about it, making the deal happen.”
Of the choice to leave Germany, Canouse said “It was a tough decision,” he said during Thursday’s press conference. “I was pleased with what D.C. United put forth. The new stadium coming in, the development of the club, I wanted to be a part of it.”
Bochum provided Canouse with a platform to grow as a player last year. The second division in Germany is not an easy place to play, and it’s also the breeding ground for the top flight, one of the world’s elite leagues. That season helped Canouse in his development, but also added to the difficulty in leaving Germany for United.
“I don’t know how many people around the world understand, but it is a good league,” Canouse told B&RU of the 2. Bundesliga. “There’s a lot of clubs with a lot of tradition. The pressure in those games are high. Everyone wants to get back up to the Bundesliga, where they used to be. Everyone has those aspirations, and it’s not easy. It was a good experience there, I learned a lot from Bochum.”
When he finally arrived at RFK Stadium though, there was a friendly face to greet him, one which surely made the decision to change paths easier to handle.
“As soon as I got here in the locker room, [Worra] was the first one there.,” said Canouse. “I stood there for an hour and caught up with him. We caught up on the high school years.”
And with Arriola, Canouse has a relationship that goes even further back than with Worra, who played with him at Hempfield High School for just one year. Arriola and Canouse have been teammates for years on various national teams, and though their careers diverged at some point, they’re now excited to have ended up on the same club team.
“Paul and I have a pretty long relationship. We were part of the U-20s squad, but it goes back to the U-14 national team,” said Canouse. “We went through the whole cycle together, and have stayed friends, stayed in contact the whole way through. As I soon as I heard he was coming, I got excited. It’s pretty special. Paul is a great addition to this club, who will fight for the team, and everyone is happy to have him on the team.”
Canouse’s international transfer certificate will arrive from Germany in time for him to play this weekend against Real Salt Lake. He’s anxious to start vying for playing time at defensive midfield, a position that has been in flux the entire year for United.
“I’m coming in to make the team better. I’m fighting for playing time, to do my best, and give everything for the club,” Canouse told B&RU. “Going into the end of the season, okay now we’re not in a playoff spot, but anything can happen. I’ll keep my hopes up high.”