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‘I like having pressure on me’: Ian Russell eager to lead Earthquakes as interim coach

‘I like having pressure on me’: Ian Russell eager to lead Earthquakes as interim coach

STANFORD — In his first appearance speaking with the media since being named the San Jose Earthquakes’ interim coach, Ian Russell made it clear that he is not shying away from the challenge of turning the franchise’s season around.

“I like having pressure on me,” Russell said. “I thrive off that. I believe in myself. I’m just gonna take these games and I’m going to coach the team to the best I can with our staff and try to get results.”

The 48-year-old is not just coaching to lift the morale of the last-place Quakes, but he will also be evaluated to possibly be San Jose’s permanent coach once this season is over.

The Quakes fired head coach Luchi Gonzalez on Monday midway into his second season after the team suffered its 14th loss of the season over the weekend in a 6-2 beatdown at the hands of LAFC.

Russell was elevated to lead San Jose and will be looking to start his second stint as interim coach of the Quakes with a win on Saturday in the California Clásico against the LA Galaxy at Stanford Stadium.

“I think every interim job is an audition of sorts,” Quakes general manager Chris Leitch said on Monday. “I think Ian is going to take the opportunity and run with it. And he has to. The team is looking for a change of pace and a change of voice.”

San Jose Earthquakes interim head coach Ian Russell walks off the field after a practice at Stanford Stadium in Stanford, Calif., on Wednesday, June 26, 2024. (Shae Hammond/Bay Area News Group)
San Jose Earthquakes interim head coach Ian Russell walks off the field after a practice at Stanford Stadium in Stanford, Calif., on Wednesday, June 26, 2024. (Shae Hammond/Bay Area News Group) 

The Quakes are currently the worst team in MLS with a 3-14-2 record. They are winless in their last eight matches and have conceded 27 goals in that span.

While the midseason coaching shakeup was understood by the players, Gonzalez was a well-liked figure in the locker room and it was hard for them to see him be let go.

Under Gonzalez, the Quakes made the playoffs last season and he played a big part in bringing Argentinian midfielder Hernán López to the team in April.

“It’s a results-based decision and hopefully it turns out that the results do turn around from here on out,” said López through a translator. “It’s tough on a personal level but at the same time you understand.”

Russell spent the bulk of his playing career as a member of the Earthquakes in the mid-2000s. He was an assistant coach from 2008 to 2016 and was the head coach of the now defunct Reno 1868 of the United Soccer League Championship.

Russell is familiar with being the interim coach as he held the title 10 years ago.

In 2014, he was elevated into the interim role for the final two matches of the season after the Quakes fired then head coach Mark Watson. San Jose already had its eyes on a new coach as it hired Dominic Kinnear shortly after that season ended.

But unlike 10 years ago, there is no succession plan in place as of now. Russell will have a legitimate shot at becoming the team’s coach after the season ends and he believes he has grown since that time.

“The difference between 2014 and now is that I knew Dominic Kinnear was coming in, so I was just seeing the season out,” Russell said. “I think I’ve developed a lot since then.”

The timing of Gonzalez’s firing did not favor Russell in terms of making sweeping changes to the team’s culture. But he said he hopes to build off the foundation that was put down by Gonzalez and the rest of the coaching staff over the last two seasons.

“I was here with Luchi last year, so we’re just continuing the culture here,” Russell said. “Every coach is different, but I know we’re going to have a lot of energy, a lot of aggressiveness and we’re going to play hard.”

Star winger Cristian Espinoza said the things that need to change on the field have more to do with the team’s approach to each match.

“We need to change mentally, it’s all about our mentality at this moment,” he said. “In this tough moment, the only way to change the situation is by being together more than ever and working hard.”

San Jose Earthquakes' Cristian Espinoza (10) smiles during a practice at Stanford Stadium in Stanford, Calif., on Wednesday, June 26, 2024. (Shae Hammond/Bay Area News Group)
San Jose Earthquakes’ Cristian Espinoza (10) smiles during a practice at Stanford Stadium in Stanford, Calif., on Wednesday, June 26, 2024. (Shae Hammond/Bay Area News Group) 

San Jose has fallen off from its Top 10-defensive ranking in 2023, giving up a league-worst 51 goals through 19 matches this season. The Quakes have lost 10 matches in which they had leads.

In Saturday’s loss to LAFC, San Jose surrendered four goals in the first 42 minutes of play. Russell said he wants to see more from his forwards and midfielders on defense.

“When you first look at it the first blame is going to the back four and the goalkeeper, but that’s not it at all,” Russell said. “It starts with the forwards and it starts with the midfielders. The back four should be the ones that are actually picking up the scraps at the end. So we have to change all that.”

Saturday’s match against the Galaxy could prove to be crucial for changing the morale of the locker room and giving the fans something to cheer for, especially in a rivalry match.

LA has been one of the top teams in the league this season. They are currently third in the Western Conference and have won five of its last six matches.

A victory might not do much for the Quakes in the win-loss column, but it could get Russell’s tenure as head coach started on the right track.

“We want to win, not just for Ian, but for us and the fans,” Espinoza said. “Hopefully this weekend, we can start winning in terms of the results.”

San Jose Earthquakes interim head coach Ian Russell walks off the field after a practice at Stanford Stadium in Stanford, Calif., on Wednesday, June 26, 2024. (Shae Hammond/Bay Area News Group)
San Jose Earthquakes interim head coach Ian Russell walks off the field after a practice at Stanford Stadium in Stanford, Calif., on Wednesday, June 26, 2024. (Shae Hammond/Bay Area News Group) 
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