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.”
After starting the season on the road for its first four matches, 8 of the final 12 will be at home for @FCTulsa. Time to get comfortable, right? @Boushwa22 says not so fast. His thoughts+video from the team at practice the day before the home opener:#ForTulsa @USLChampionship pic.twitter.com/XiQzO4oCy5— Morgan Beard (@morganbeard) August 11, 2020
- 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.
Tag(s): San Antonio FC Orange County SC Phoenix Rising FC Reno 1868 FC FC Tulsa Charlotte Independence New York Red Bulls II Pittsburgh Riverhounds Tampa Bay Rowdies Birmingham Legion FC Atlanta United 2 Indy Eleven El Paso Locomotive FC Loudoun United FC Hartford Athletic San Diego Loyal SC The Morning Tea