When most of his peers at Hempfield High School in Lancaster County were thinking about SATs and driver’s tests, Russell Canouse was far away from home figuring out how to be a professional soccer player in Germany.
Now more than six years since he began his European odyssey in Germany with TSG 1899 Hoffenheim, the 22-year-old D.C. United midfielder is working his way back from an injury with family and friends an easy drive away in Pennsylvania.
“Only being able to go home every six months was tough,” Canouse said in a phone interview earlier this week. “Now that I am back in D.C. it’s closer so I try to take advantage of it.”
In addition to his family, Canouse has a fiancée who is working in Lancaster so there’s even more incentive to spend time back in Pennsylvania, which was a big part of the draw of coming to Major League Soccer.
“Most players like the idea of playing near or close to their hometown,” he said. “Back before the Philadelphia Union were around my dad would take me down to D.C. United games.”
Canouse said the Union were also very much a draw. He followed the team closely in Germany and is still close to former Union homegrown Zack Pfeffer, who he roomed with when both were playing for Hoffenheim’s U19 team.
He’s yet to play against the Union since joining D.C. United in August 2017 (Canouse went down with a knee/hamstring injury prior to the team’s facing in preseason in Florida) and is expected to still be out for tomorrow’s game at Talen Energy Stadium. It’s more likely he’ll face them for the first time at Audi Field in late August.
“I’m excited for whenever that comes,” Canouse said about playing against the Union. “There’s a little more fire when you play against local rivals like Red Bulls and Philadelphia.”
A former youth national team regular (he was called up to the USMNT camp in January) and Red Bulls Academy player, Canouse’s ties to Pennsylvania run even deeper than Lancaster. His father, Greg Canouse, payed soccer at Drexel in the mid-’80s and he has 15 credits from online classes he took through Drexel in Germany (he plans to finish his business degree online with MLS partner Southern New Hampshire University).
“My dad was always into soccer and gave me my first ball to kick around,” Canouse said.
Things started to get really serious for Russell when he made the decision to focus on soccer over basketball.
“I was a good basketball player but there was no way I was going to be 6-5 so at about 12 or 13 I decided to focus on soccer,” he said.
From there, he went from playing with PA Classics to training with the New York Red Bulls Academy in North Jersey, near where his dad spent a lot of time traveling for work. Prior to joining the United States U17 residency program in Florida, he played one season of high school soccer as a freshman at Hempfield High School, where he was a teammate of current D.C. United reserve goalkeeper Travis Worra.
After two semesters in the residency program, Germany came calling. Initially joining the Hoffenheim youth setup, Russell signed a professional contract after about a year abroad and ended up making his first team debut in 2016. He spent the following season on loan at VfL Bochum and had a year left on his contract when he decided to accept D.C. United’s offer.
The adjustment back to living full-time in the U.S. didn’t take long.
“I felt comfortable from the first day,” he said. “I said when I first got to D.C. and playing a little bit that it felt like an extended vacation where I could do what I love.”
In addition to his dad, family for Russell includes a younger brother and two older siblings. His mom died after a battle with lung cancer in 2012.
“In Germany, it was my individual dream but I didn’t have the support and I never had anyone in the stands,” he said. “Now I can have my family, friends, whoever there to see me play. Speaking English daily and being part of the culture I grew up in has also been really nice.”
Tomorrow’s game at Talen Energy Stadium is slated for a 3:30 p.m. kickoff. It’s the only meeting between the I-95 rivals in Pennsylvania on the league schedule this season though a clash in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup is always a possibility.