By Kevin Kernan | Photos Courtesy of Louisville City FC
Louisville may not seem like the obvious next step for a player who had just won the league in his home nation, but for one of Louisville City FC’s newest signings, the United Soccer League (USL) seems like the perfect fit.
Sean Russell, a 23-year-old, left-footed Irish player, had been tracking the USL’s progressive improvements from across the pond for a few years. When LouCity’s head coach James O’Connor offered Russell a contract last December, he leapt at the chance. An obvious student of the game, Russell sought pastures anew after last season to forge a path where he would be given time to develop with, and for, a club.
For everything he is gaining by moving from the unsettled environment in Irish soccer that he described as a “merry-go-round,” Russell is also making a few sacrifices to establish his soccer career in the United States.
Back home, he was playing under his father, a former player himself whose journeyman career spanned eight teams and 20 years. He left behind a team in Limerick FC that he had fought with to earn promotion to Ireland’s top division after being relegated the season before, a feeling he described as “the worst in my career.” There is no doubt Russell is stepping out of what would be many players’ comfort zones to gain experience and skill in a country that he hadn’t set foot on previously.
Despite the lower division status of the USL, the move here was not random for the utility player. While Russell said many people in his home nation feel that if you don’t play in England or Europe, “there isn’t much else out there,” he saw beyond that.
“Recently, the USL has been growing at a really good rate, it’s been something that I was looking at and thinking that the level was quite good and (he wanted) to get an opportunity here and grasp it,” Russell said.
After expressing interest in the Russell for several weeks and tracking his play, Coach O’Connor extended a contract offer.
“He didn’t have to sell the club too much to me,” Russell said on their negotiations “I knew how professional they went. The philosophy of the game that James (O’Connor) puts into the squad is exactly what any player would want to play for.”
Russell looks to fit well into the Louisville City team, too. His versatility and work rate will keep him in good stead with O’Connor. In Ireland, he spent time both playing left back in defense and also could take up a more advanced spot in the midfield. Sean’s experience on set pieces means that he could be the one tasked with taking over free kick and corner duties.
Arguably, the most valuable thing he brings to the team are his intangibles. Championship experience is something that characterized all of the team’s signing this offseason, and Russell is no different.
Back in Ireland he played more than 1,200 minutes over a 28-game season to earn his team’s promotion to the first division. It was immediately apparent in conversing with Russell that he shares both the appetite and acumen for the game with the rest of the team.
Off the pitch, Russell likes to keep a low profile. He enjoys his down time but is looking forward to exploring the locale with his girlfriend, Becky, who made the trip stateside with him.
He also is keen on procuring a PlayStation, as it’s something he left back home in Ireland. While he is a fan of FIFA (the go-to soccer video game), Russell said, with a chuckle, he has only played as Limerick FC a handful of times.
Louisville City FC is fresh off their trip to IMG Academy in Florida, where they built up both their fitness and esprit de corps before returning home to a slate of preseason friendlies. The season kicks off March 25 when they host regional rivals Saint Louis FC.