Russell Canouse Reflects on Dramatic Bundesliga Debut
March 24, 2016
THESE ARE TENSE TIMES for Hoffenheim. The club has been in the Bundesliga since 2008 but the current season has been a constant relegation fight.
On March 12 the team found itself in possession of a 1-0 lead against sixth-place Wolfsburg, and in the 62nd minute of this match the team's new head coach, Julian Nagelsmann, summoned Russell Canouse to enter the game for his Bundesliga debut.
It was quite a stage for the Lancaster, Pa., native as his club desperately needed three points against a very talented opponent. But the defensive midfielder did his job and Hoffenheim held on for the upset victory.
“I was definitely nervous standing on the sideline waiting to get in, especially in a situation like that against a top team in Europe,” Canouse told American Soccer Now from Germany. “I wouldn't say I was surprised because I was mentally preparing myself during the days before the game in case I would get a chance. I think that is what helped it be a successful debut for me.
"It was a big three points for the club and I was just very happy to be a part of it.”
Canouse, 20, joined Hoffenheim in 2011 when he was just 15 years old. Over that time he has risen steadily through the club’s youth teams, often serving as captain along the way.
Canouse and Nagelsmann are familiar with each other as the young coach helmed Hoffenheim’s U-19 team when it won the title in 2014—with Canouse wearing the armband. The American credits Nagelsmann—at 28, the youngest coach in Bundesliga history—with expediting his arrival in the German top flight.
“Obviously the pathway to the first team was always my goal,” Canouse said. “I have had teammates in the past who made the jump to the first team so I was just hoping I would be the next to come up. In regards to it being possible, the injuries did help this weekend but I also think Julian Nagelsmann coming up helped my chance. I have just tried to be really patient and mentally prepared if and when the opportunity came.”
Nagelsmann felt Canouse did a good job for his club at a critical stage.
“It is not easy to deal with—to be in training here, then be in the squad, and then also to play,” Nagelsmann told reporters afterward. "To start him would have be a bit much since it was his first game, but we wanted reward him. He did a good job [in his debut] and lost almost no duel.
"He has a huge heart and a great personality, he has earned it over the last few years."
The most interesting thing about Canouse and Nagelsmann is that it is not their first relegation battle together. When Hoffenheim’s U-19s were stuck in a relegation battle of their own, Canouse was promoted from the U-17 team and played a pivotal role in helping avoid the drop.
Relegation battles in top European leagues are no times for young players but Canouse believes that his experience in similar situations has prepared him for the high stakes of the German top flight.
“I definitely don't think it's easy because week to week the situation could either get better or a lot worse so that makes the pressure much greater,” Canouse said. “I was a part of a relegation battle when Julian [as coach] and Alex Rosen [as manager] took over the U-19s while I was still in the U-17s. They pulled us up and I played in the last game to help the team stay in the U-19 Bundesliga for the following year.
"These situations are good for player development because it's a different kind of pressure than if you are winning every game.”
Naglesmann suggested that Canouse’s future with the club could be bright but was quick to point out that his debut was due to the fact that Hoffenheim had been dealing with suspensions and injuries to several midfielders. Still, he pointed out that Canouse will remain in consideration on a weekly basis.
"You have to see," Nagelsmann said. “The focus is on the perspective of the player. If he plays with us, he can stay if he has little chance of playing. We must see that he gets playing time, which is important for its development...We have him definitely on the list—also with the U-23 team."
With his Bundesliga debut now in the rearview mirror, Canouse has high hopes for his future. He earned the confidence of his manager and hopes that will translate into a long-term future with Hoffenheim.
Outside of soccer, he is very much interested in the world of business and the stock market, where he is taking online courses. His Twitter feed reflects these non-soccer interests.
Beyond that, there is the national team which has always been a priority for Canouse. He has featured at many age groups for U.S. youth national teams and even wore the captain’s armband in 2015 for the U-20 team at World Cup qualifying. (An unfortunate injury just before the tournament forced him to miss the World Cup.)
Serving as captain for both club and country is somewhat of a regular occurrence for Canouse but despite his veteran presence, he was not included on the U-23 roster for the upcoming Olympic qualifying playoff series against Colombia. Now with a Bundesliga appearance to build on, Canouse hopes to climb back into the picture and could even feature for the U-23 team should it qualify for the games in Rio de Janeiro.
“My goal is to stay apart of the national team as well as that has always been of very big importance to me,” Canouse said. “I'm just going to be patient and see how that unfolds. If I take care of my job here then I will hopefully get the opportunity to represent the United States with the U-23s or the full team at some point.”
Brian Sciaretta is an American Soccer Now columnist and an ASN 100 panelist. Follow him on Twitter.