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THE MORNING TEA – Reno’s Russell Embracing Almeyda’s Influence

By NICHOLAS MURRAY -, 08/12/20, 7:30AM EDT


Preview all of Wednesday night’s action; FC Tulsa excited for home opener at ONEOK Field

We’ve got some big games tonight, including a battle of undefeated clubs in Tulsa, Oklahoma and the second Donner Pass Derby of the season between Reno 1868 FC and Sacramento Republic FC. Ahead of that meeting, let’s check in with Reno Head Coach Ian Russell. Here’s your Morning Tea for Wednesday



For the first two seasons of Reno 1868 FC’s history, Head Coach and Technical Director Ian Russell was given a pretty free hand from the technical leadership at partner the San Jose Earthquakes in terms of system and player recruitment.

“The first year, Dominic Kinnear was the coach, he trusted me, he was like, ‘just make a good team up there’” Russell told Mike Watts on the 3 Honest Lads podcast. “’Maybe we’ll get some players from you, but we want you guys to do well.’ That was his thought, they wanted the franchise to get off the ground with success up in Reno.”

Nowadays, with Matias Almeyda at the helm for the Quakes, things have certainly changed, and in Russell’s mind that’s actually been a good thing both for himself and the players that are looking to help 1868 FC succeed. For Russell in particular, it’s given him added insight into the concepts he began studying when former colleague Nick Dasovic at the San Jose Earthquakes suggested he look at the system that current Leeds United manager and coaching legend Marcelo Bielsa had created.

With Almeyda following a similar blueprint and achieving massive success with it at Chivas in Liga MX and the Concacaf Champions League, Russell was eager to gain insight into the man-to-man defensive system that both Bielsa and Almeyda have imprinted on their teams.

There was one serious challenge, however, as the 2019 season neared.

“I did tell Matias, ‘I’ve constructed a roster to play a certain way right now,’” said Russell. “I’m a little concerned about just jumping into this man-to-man without really knowing it. You’re showing me a video, I need a little more, I want to watch you guys for a while.’”

Almeyda agreed, but as the Quakes grew into the system last year after some early struggles, Reno began to implement some of the concepts as well. In one game, a 3-2 victory on the road against OKC Energy FC, things went well. In another, a 4-1 loss to San Antonio FC, less so. At that point, the new system took a back seat as Reno dialed in on reaching the postseason for a third consecutive year.

“At that point, Matias said ‘OK, let’s focus on this for next year, you’ll have a whole season,’” said Russell, “and man, I’ve studied it, studied them, during quarantine actually I got really, really in-depth with everything. Very detailed. We had over probably 100 power point slides on exactly how we’re going to press teams. Whatever system they’re in, we will probably have an answer for it.”

After putting things into practice initially this season during a 3-1 win against Tacoma Defiance, the season suspension then provided even more time for Russell and his staff to work on the concepts the players would need to pick up on to make the system work. While the time away from the field wasn’t ideal, for Russell it was in some ways a blessing in disguise.

“Nobody wanted the quarantine, but it was probably the best thing that happened to me in terms of preparing,” said Russell. “I’ve never had four months [like that]. Normally when I have time off, I’m out scouting players, I’m trying to form a team, but this is where I could really take a deep dive into this system.”

With five games gone this season, Reno is still far from a finished product when it comes to implementing the new structure, but with three wins in a row after its defeat to Sacramento Republic FC following the season resumption Russell believes he’s seeing improvement every time his side takes the field. 1868 FC will get a measuring stick as to how far they’ve come in the past four weeks when they host Republic FC on Wednesday night, but in the bigger picture Russell believes the team’s new direction from Almeyda and the Quakes is going to make both him and Reno better long-term.

“You talk about his soccer mind, the more I watch, the more I respect what he’s doing,” said Russell. “Every game’s a new learning experience for us. … I just feel like from here on out it’s going to get better and better and the guys are flying. They love it. They want to work, these guys are a hard-working group that we have, so it fits us perfectly.”



Charlotte Independence vs. Birmingham Legion FC

Group G

7:00 p.m. ET |
Venue: Sportsplex at Matthews Predictor: CLT Wins 34% | Draw 28% | BHM Wins 39%
Group G
The Gist: The Independence play host to Legion FC in the second meeting between the clubs this season on Wednesday night with Charlotte looking to avenge its loss in Birmingham in Week 7. Led by Neco Brett’s pair of goals, Legion FC took a 4-1 victory at BBVA Field when the teams met on August 5 and then added another victory this past Saturday night, defeating Atlanta United 2 on Prosper Kasim’s first goal of the season to move six points clear at the top of Group G. The Independence rebounded slightly in a 1-1 draw with the Charleston Battery on Saturday night as Dane Kelly found the net but are still looking for their first win since the season resumed. Defeating Birmingham would not only even the season series, but also move Charlotte back into the playoff positions in the group.

New York Red Bulls II vs. Loudoun United FC

Group F

7:00 p.m. ET |
Venue: Red Bull Arena Predictor: NY Wins 47% | Draw 24% | LDN Wins 29%
Group F
The Gist: Both the Red Bulls II and Loudoun will be trying to break a two-game losing streak in hopes of boosting their playoff chances when they meet on Wednesday night. New York had a tough Week 7 as it fell first to the Philadelphia Union II and then Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC. The defeats have left the Red Bulls II six points out of the playoff places in Group F, and at risk of missing the postseason for the first time in their history. Loudoun, meanwhile, is still looking for its first victory of the season after suffering a pair of defeats to Hartford Athletic since the resumption of the campaign. With games in hand on the rest of the group, United still has a pathway to climb the standings, but victory against New York will be an essential first step toward that goal

Atlanta United 2 vs. Tampa Bay Rowdies

Group H

7:30 p.m. ET |
Venue: Fifth Third Bank Stadium Predictor: ATL Wins 14% | Draw 20% | TBR Wins 66%
Group H
The Gist: The Rowdies will try to maintain their undefeated campaign as they visit Atlanta, which gave Tampa Bay a spot of trouble when they last met at Al Lang Stadium. Serving as the first game back in action for both teams on July 11, Atlanta grabbed an early lead despite being reduced to 10 men, only for the Rowdies to fight back and take a 2-1 victory thanks to Leo Fernandes’ late goal. Since that meeting, however, Atlanta has staked itself out as a potential playoff challenger, defeating Miami FC and playing to a draw with the Charleston Battery. Finding a way to hand Tampa Bay defeat on its home turf could be a tall order, though, with the Rowdies also having shown game-by-game improvement each week. A 3-0 win against Miami last Friday night saw Sebastian Guenzatti record a goal in his fourth consecutive game and Malik Johnson in his second straight. With the potential to stretch their lead in Group H even further, Tampa Bay should come out firing against the talented Atlanta youngsters.

FC Tulsa vs. San Antonio FC

Group D

8:00 p.m. ET |
Venue: ONEOK Field Predictor: TUL Wins 24% | Draw 23% | SA Wins 52%
Group D
The Gist: Two of the four remaining undefeated sides in the Championship meet in FC Tulsa’s home opener at ONEOK Field, where they will get their first chance to close the gap on San Antonio in the Group D standings. Tulsa’s new-look side has appeared to improve in every outing this season, and produced maybe its best performance this past Saturday in a 2-0 victory against Saint Louis FC that saw Eric Bird and Dario Suarez each score their first goals for the club. Finding another level again could be essential to getting a result against San Antonio, which has won four of its first game games and its last three in a row after a 3-0 victory against OKC Energy FC on Saturday night. Cristian Parano had another goal and assist at Taft Stadium, and now will try to lead his side in an Oklahoma sweep of their trip north.

San Diego Loyal SC vs. Orange County SC

Group B

10:00 p.m. ET |
Venue: Torero Stadium Predictor: SD Wins 28% | Draw 28% | OC Wins 43%
Group B
The Gist: SD Loyal will face maybe its biggest test of the season so far when it plays host to Orange County at Torero Stadium while looking to return to the top of Group B in the standings. San Diego is back in action for the first time since a 0-0 draw against Sacramento Republic FC on August 1, but with only one defeat is currently sitting in second place in the group in its inaugural season. The defensive solidity the side has shown has been central to SD Loyal’s success – Head Coach Landon Donovan’s side has yet to concede more than one goal in a game – but that could be tested by the attacking talent possessed by OCSC. Returning to the field for the first time since a 1-0 win against Phoenix Rising FC on July 25 that saw Ugo Okoli score the only goal, Orange County has seen some recent fixtures postponed which will mean it needs to shake off any rust that might have accumulated. With a six-point gap to make up to the playoff places and three games in hand on San Diego, a win on Wednesday would be a very big step forward for the visitors.

Reno 1868 FC vs. Sacramento Republic FC

Group A

10:30 p.m. ET |
Venue: Greater Nevada Field Predictor: RNO Wins 42% | Draw 28% | SAC Wins 31%
Group A
The Gist: The second edition of the Donner Pass Derby lands in Reno, where the hosts have a chance to not only gain revenge for its defeat by Republic FC when they met in July but also to add to their lead in Group A’s standings. Sacramento took a 1-0 victory on a late penalty kick by Cameron Iwasa at Papa Murphy’s Park on July 19 in 1868 FC’s first game back in action since the season resumed. Since then, Reno has reeled off three consecutive victories, including a 2-1 defeat of Tacoma Defiance in the club’s home opener this past Saturday. By contrast, Republic FC has gone 1-1-1 since that meeting, allowing 1868 FC to build a three-point lead with one game played fewer so far in the standings, but Sacramento did earn victory in its last outing with a 1-0 win against the Portland Timbers 2 at Providence Park. As always with these rivals, though, the action should be fascinating to watch play out.
Discipline: Sacramento - Suspended: Matt Mahoney




- FC Tulsa took to ONEOK Field for the first time in almost five months on Tuesday for its final preparations for Wednesday night’s home opener against San Antonio FC. The Tulsa World’s Barry Lewis found a team that was excited to show off its new lineup and new look to fans after an undefeated road stint to start the season.

- Kevin Partida grew up a short drive from Greater Nevada Field, and has been a notable part of Reno 1868 FC for three seasons. Ahead of Wednesday’s game with Sacramento Republic FC, he spoke to KUNR’s Lesly Virgen-Mariscal about the changes this season has brought to being a professional soccer player in his hometown.  

- For the past two months, Hartford Athletic’s leadership has had weekly calls with not only local officials but Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont to discuss how the club can continue to safely host its next limited-capacity crowd at Dillon Stadium. Hartford Business’ Joe Cooper writes the insights have given state and city officials an opportunity to gauge public interest in going to events during the pandemic, according to Michael Freimuth, executive director of the Capital Region Development Authority.

- El Paso Locomotive FC bolstered its back line on Tuesday, acquiring Macauley King from Indy Eleven. King had made 25 appearances for Indy, including 22 a season ago in his rookie campaign as he was part of the side that reached the Eastern Conference Final of the 2019 USL Championship Playoffs.

- After picking up back-to-back victories, Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC has moved into first place in Group F in the Championship. With a return fixture against Indy Eleven up kicking off a string of three games in eight days, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review’s Greg Macafee writes the Hounds are keeping their eyes on the prize.

- After his first hat trick in the Championship on Saturday night, Phoenix Rising FC’s Junior Flemmings was named the Championship Player of the Week on Tuesday, and drew more plaudits from Head Coach Rick Schantz as he spoke with local media ahead of the club’s game on Saturday against San Diego Loyal SC.

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