Reno 1868 FC Head Coach Ian Russell led the club to a third consecutive playoff berth on Friday, and has been one of the few constants in creating the club's success. | Photo courtesy David Calvert / Reno 1868 FC,
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – Friday night was one for celebration at Reno 1868 FC.
Thanks to its 3-1 victory on the road against New Mexico United at Isotopes Park, the club booked its place in the USL Championship Playoffs for a third consecutive season.
And for Ian Russell, it marked the 50th victory on the sidelines at a club where he has become the central figure since being appointed as Head Coach prior to its launch in 2017.
“I’m really happy, that’s an important one,” said Russell of the landmark. “We’ve gotten a lot of really good support from the San Jose Earthquakes. On the Reno side of things all the logistical stuff has been good, it’s transformed into a professional environment that’s fostering wins. Both sides have launched this franchise. It’s a really good sign for the organization.”
Russell’s nature is to give credit to others, but the work he has done in making Reno one of the Western Conference’s strongest clubs in its first three seasons is inarguable. The standards he has set have resulted in consistent performances for a club that has seen changes in its personnel and key performers every season.
Where once there were Dane Kelly and Brian Brown, now there is Corey Hertzog, who set an individual season-best on Friday night as he notched his 15th and 16th goals of his campaign and reached 60 regular-season goals for his Championship career.
Where previously there were Chris Wehan and Antoine Hoppenot, now there is Raul Mendiola, who leads the side with seven assists this year after arriving from Las Vegas Lights FC last offseason.
For sure, Russell hasn’t been alone in this journey, as there have been cornerstones for the club on the field as well. Defender Brent Richards became the first player to surpass 7,000 regular-season minutes for 1868 FC on Friday night, his club-leading 83rd regular-season appearance in Reno’s colors. There’s also Seth Casiple, called upon on Friday to help Reno weather a late storm of New Mexico pressure, but he’s one of only three players – Hoppenot the other – to have surpassed 5,000 regular-season minutes for 1868 FC.
Reno 1868 FC Head Coach Ian Russell surveys the pitch during his side's 3-1 victory against New Mexico United, which served as his 50th as the club's Head Coach. | Photo courtesy Josh Lane / New Mexico United
That has made Russell the indispensable part of Reno’s success. Whatever the situation has called for, he’s found a way to make it succeed. Get minutes for the San Jose Earthquakes’ young standouts Gilbert Fuentes and Cade Cowell? Fuentes has two assists in seven starts, while Cowell scored on his professional debut.
Build a club that plays attacking, attractive soccer home and away? In the 96 regular-season games 1868 FC has played since its inception, the club has scored 197 goals. That’s more than any other club in that span, outstripping even the New York Red Bulls II (194) and this year’s record-setters Phoenix Rising FC (190).
All that’s left now for 1868 FC is to find the same success it has in the regular season in the USL Championship Playoffs. Reno suffered the disappointment of a record-setting opening campaign in 2017 coming to an end in a Western Conference Quarterfinals upset against OKC Energy FC, and while last year the side earned its first playoff win on the road against Real Monarchs SLC, its dreams were dashed by Orange County SC the following round.
With a top-three finish looking a sure thing – 1868 FC is a 94 percent chance to finish either second or third according to fivethirtyeight.com – a showdown with top seed Rising FC and Russell’s friend Head Coach Rick Schantz wouldn’t arrive until the Western Conference Final.
And should Reno make a run to its first USL Championship Final, it would be nothing less than Russell deserves.