Reno 1868 FC—housed at the Greater Nevada Field—begins its first season this spring. Find out what Coach Ian Russell thinks about the team, its players and his new life in Reno.
Story and Photography by Matthew Bieker
I saw the news about you signing (MLS player) Dane Kelly. Can we talk about your plans for the inaugural season? Yes, (Kelly) is a big signing for us—the guy has scored a lot of goals. When I think about the team, it’s a team that’s technical, that’s got a lot of speed; (so) when the fans come to the game they’re excited and impressed by the players. We’re not going to be a team that is going to sit back and defend and try to counteract. That’s not very entertaining. We’re definitely going to defend well, but it’s not going to be the basis of our game. We’re going to try to score goals, especially at home—we’re playing at an elevation of 4,500 feet, a hard place for other teams to come into. We’ll have to adjust the ball and outrun teams, because they’re going to struggle.
Tell me about your background. You’ve been with the San Jose Earthquakes since 2008 and are their longest tenured assistant coach, and you played professionally before that? Yeah, (I played MLS) 2000–2006, so six seasons. Basically I started young, 5 or 6 years old…with youth soccer in Seattle. From there, I went through the Olympic Development Program and ended up making the national team when I was 17. (Then) I went to the University of Washington, played soccer there for four years, and was drafted out of college to the Seattle Sounders. I’d played two seasons with Seattle when the Earthquakes drafted me in 2000 and I played to 2005. I went on to the LA Galaxy in 2006, played a year there and retired after that—that’s when I started coaching with the Earthquakes.
How has the public’s interest in soccer changed over the years? I’m telling you, when I first started playing in 2000 compared to where we’re at right now—it’s like night and day. (Now) the stadiums are full, the fans are really into it, and I think the interest in soccer is here to stay. My opinion is it really grew when the Galaxy signed David Beckham. Then you started seeing other stars come over and the level of MLS is just going up. It’s definitely something that’s going to just keep on growing.
So were you on the Galaxy at the same time as Beckham? When I left the Galaxy, I actually got called back in later on in that season and he was there then. I never played a game with him but I was able to train with him a few times. That was a good experience.
How did the idea of coaching in Reno start? Our (Earthquake) GMs at the time, John Doyle and Chris Leitch, said, “We’re going to start this USL team up in Reno; would you be interested in taking that head coaching job?” It was right in the middle of the Earthquakes’ season and I said, “You know, it’s intriguing, but let me think about it for awhile. I want to focus on the Earthquakes for now.”
Then I ended up driving up here and kind of fell in love with the city. I thought it was a great place. I like the mountains, I like the area, and everything fit. It’s pretty crowded in the Bay Area, and it’s expensive. And when we went on our little family getaways, we’d come up to Lake Tahoe or we’d try to get to the mountains and now we’re pretty much living there. (Reno’s) also a great family town, the schools are good—and I like to go fly-fishing, and there’s a lot of good fishing around here.
In the process of reinventing itself, Reno still struggles against some of the old stereotypes. Yeah, I was thinking of this old, dingy town, and then when I came and saw it and saw the new businesses that are coming in and the neighborhoods that I went to visit looking for a (house), I was like, “Man, this is a beautiful place.”
Well, hopefully the addition of the 1868 will do even more for that reputation. One last question: How will you and the team get people excited about the prospect of coming to a match? I think a lot of that is obviously going to be on me to put a good product on the field, but it’s also on our PR people to really show them exactly what the game day experience is going to be, and once they’re at the stadium, to make sure the fans are having a good time. They’re throwing around some pretty cool ideas—and I think people will really rally around, and this will be something they’ll look forward to doing on the weekends.
We’ll be looking forward to it. Thanks, coach.