Competition for playing time with Real Salt Lake just got tougher with the arrival of Robbie Russell, the versatile veteran who can play seven different positions.
Realistically, it can only be a good thing, even for a first-place team with the majority of its players comfortable in their roles 18 games into the season.
"Us as a team, we want to win and be successful," said RSL defender Ian Joy. "The only way to do that is keep on improving. The squad that we have here is good, we're competing with the teams in the league at the moment, but where we've got the opportunity to improve we've got to take that chance. Guys have to understand that to continue to improve, you're going to be fighting for your place a little bit more."
Russell trained with Real Salt Lake on Friday, his first practice with the team since his acquisition was finalized Wednesday morning. Overall, he and coach Jason Kreis were pleased with his first training session less than 24 hours after arriving from the East Coast.
The potential is there for Russell to make an immediate impact, and Kreis said there's a chance he might even play this Monday against Toronto.
"In my opinion players are the ones who determine who makes the 18, who makes the starting line-up," said Kreis. "I just try and give an honest and fair assessment of who I think is looking the best at the moment. If he happens to look like one of the best 18 players over the next three days in training sessions then he'll make the 18."
There's no reason to be alarmed if he doesn't make it on the field in week one. It's been two months since he played a competitive match in Denmark, and his old team was only three weeks into preseason training when he packed his bags for the states last week with the RSL deal close to being finalized.
It might take him more than three training sessions to knock the rust off.
If he does play, where might that be? RSL's coaching staff has touted that Russell can play anywhere along the backline and one of three positions in the midfield. Russell says his preferred spots are defensive midfield and right back, because that's where he's played the majority of his professional career.
"I see it as a plus that I can fill multiple spots. Anyway I can help the team I'm up for it," said Russell.
The 29-year-old Duke University graduate acknowledges he might not start right away, knowing the coaching staff is unlikely to shake things up too much while in first place. At the same time, he said he hopes there's enough cohesion among the players that everyone wants what's best for the team.
After seven combined years spent in Norway and Denmark, Russell believes he's picked the opportune time to join Major League Soccer, and Real Salt Lake is the perfect club for him.
"I really feel like this a place where the management and coaches have a specific goal in mind," said Russell. "My experience with clubs in Europe is those are usually the teams that do the best, teams that have plans. Sometimes you see teams get players reactively; these guys seem more proactive."With three or four good years left in him five or six if the soccer gods are kind to him, he says Russell believes some of his best days are ahead of him, a reason he's optimistic about getting back in the U.S. National Team picture in the near future.
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