Darel Russell, a native of Mile End, England, is ready to play NASL soccer.
Russell, a 33-year old veteran of the English leagues, played last season with Major League Soccer’s Toronto FC, but was looking for a different challenge when he heard about fellow Englishmen Ricky Hill coaching a successful team down in Florida.
“I spoke to a lot people about Rick,” Russell said. “He’s got a great reputation in the United Kingdom. For me, I wanted to come back out here to play football. There’s not much left for me to do in England, so I wanted to come out to North America and win another title, the NASL Soccer Bowl. That’s what I’m looking to do.”
Russell, who goes by the nickname “Rusty,” played a long career for Norwich City and Stoke City and also spent time with Preston North End, Charlton Athletic and Portsmouth before making the jump to MLS.
In his first weeks as a Rowdie, Russell has been impressed by the attitude of his teammates.
“I feel that this team, with the manager and owner we have, has a lot of ambition,” he said. “Since I’ve been here, the players have been fantastic as well. Everyone’s got the ambition to go out there and win. I want to win a trophy as a team. There’s nothing better than doing it. I’ve done it in the UK a couple of times and I’d like to do it here in North America in a different culture of football.”
Hill envisions Russell as a do-it-all midfielder, capable of holding defensively when the team needs to settle into a match or pushing forward to help create scoring chances.
“He gives us that experience in midfield,” Hill said. “He’s the first to training in the mornings and the last to leave. He’s the type of guy that other young professionals can look to and want to take on the good qualities he has and aspire to better themselves.”
Russell said his transition into the Rowdies locker room has been as smooth as he could have hoped for.
“The team is fantastic,” he said. “From the first minute I came, I felt like I had known most of the guys for many years. That’s a credit to the team spirit they have in the locker room. It’s been brilliant from my point of view. They’ve helped me settle in quickly and the difference is that everyone is demanding to be winners.”
Russell calls himself an “old school guy” with “old thoughts” about the game, but said he ‘s looking forward to learning how the game will be played in the future by the younger members of the team.
He scored his first two goals of the preseason Saturday against Florida Gulf Coast in a 3-1 Rowdies win, but wasn’t totally satisfied with his performance. There’s still work to do before the regular season opens on April 12 at home against FC Edmonton.
“It’s always nice to score, but there are other parts of my game that I want to improve on,” he said. “It didn’t come together as I would’ve liked in terms of my complete performance. The icing on the cake is the goals, but sometimes that might gloss over the things you wish to improve on. In the next games, I’ll be looking to improve on them to make sure I’m ready for the start of the season.”
Russell will have his next chance to improve Saturday night when the Rowdies preseason continues against the Tampa Marauders at Naimoli Stadium in downtown Tampa at 7:30 p.m.
With the 2014 Season just around the corner, fans can save money by purchasing single game tickets in advance by contacting the Rowdies’ front office at (877) ROWDIES (877.769.3437) or by clicking here.