It seemed easy enough to lose track of Russell Canouse amid D.C. United’s summer roster reinvention.
The 22-year-old midfielder didn’t boast the name value of U.S. national team winger Paul Arriola. He didn’t offer the pedigree of Hungarian playmaker Zoltan Stieber, either.
But there’s no doubt he filled a void in defensive midfield. Having signed with United earlier this month from German club Hoffenheim, the Lancaster, Pennsylvania, native has started the past two MLS matches — both victories as coach Ben Olsen’s team snapped an 0-8-1 skid.
While Canouse was solid enough in a 1-0 win at Colorado last weekend, he truly left his mark Wednesday as his shot created the decisive own goal in a 1-0 triumph against Atlanta at RFK Stadium.
“I thought he was good in Colorado,” Olsen said Wednesday, “and great tonight.”
A onetime regular of the U.S. youth national team setup, Canouse departed for Germany as a 16-year-old and spent six years developing for the Bundesliga club. He made his Hoffenheim debut in March 2016, then went on loan to second-tier club VfL Bochum and logged 20 matches during the 2016-17 campaign.
But he returned stateside two weeks ago in search of first-division action, signing with United just before the MLS trade and transfer deadline. Through two matches, his tenacious style of play has proved to be a natural fit for Olsen’s gritty approach.
“Well I’m a hard worker, and I think that’s what Ben wants on the field,” Canouse said. “I like to get stuck in, whether it’s in the midfield or in front of our goal, just throwing my body in places and blocking shots in tough areas.”
In lauding Canouse, Olsen compared the newcomer to Perry Kitchen — a standout midfielder for United who left the club in pursuit of European opportunities following the 2015 season.
Although the more attack-minded likes of Marcelo Sarvas and Jared Jeffrey have brought their own qualities to that position, United has lacked the consistency of a traditional defensive midfielder since Kitchen’s departure.
Through two matches, however, Canouse has shown the makings of a long-awaited solution.
“He’s clogging up lanes, connecting passes, starting attacks — he’s doing all the things you want in your [defensive midfielder],” Olsen said. “He makes a lot of little plays that add up throughout a game.”
From Canouse’s perspective, coming to MLS has offered an opportunity to shed the label of “prospect” and become a full-fledged starter in a top-flight league. Canouse already has made more appearances in two weeks with D.C. than he did over six years with Hoffenheim, and he’s poised to make his third straight start when United (7-15-4) hosts the New England Revolution (8-11-5) on Saturday.
“He’s gaining confidence game by game,” said Arriola, Canouse’s former teammate with the U.S. Under-20 squad. “I’ve known him forever, and he’s been a great player. Sometimes all it takes is being in the right environment for a player to really push himself to get to the next level. He’s showing the quality that he has now and he’s fitting in right.”
While United’s playoffs hopes are faint — the team sits 11 points out with eight matches remaining — unproven players such as Canouse see the home stretch as an opportunity to build momentum, with the club saying farewell to RFK Stadium this fall and bracing for a new era at Audi Field in Southwest next season.
“If we keep fighting like that each week I know we’ll get results,” Canouse said after Wednesday’s win. “I don’t see a team that’s last place in MLS. I’m coming in here and I see guys that are ready to play and hungry, and we’re going to climb the table — that’s our goal.”
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