- - Thursday, October 4, 2018

Russell Canouse had just turned 8 when he saw a friendly soccer match between Manchester United and FC Barcelona in Philadelphia.

That experience in 2003 fueled an interest in Manchester United for Canouse, who grew up in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

Canouse, 23, is now in his second year as a midfielder for D.C. United and teammates with Wayne Rooney, 32, who joined Manchester United in 2004.

“It was really exciting when that rumor came out,” Canouse said of United’s signing Rooney in July. “I looked up to a player like that when I was growing up. I want to soak up what he tells me and learn from it because obviously he has been at the highest level.”

“Wayne has been a great guy off the pitch as well as obviously on the pitch,” Canouse said after a practice session on Wednesday. “Off the pitch is something people don’t see. He brings a lot of leadership to the team. You have to perform right, when you have a guy like that in the locker room. He is going to get on if you don’t. He has been a great all-around guy for the team. The cohesion has been there since the beginning.”

United (10-11-8, 38 points) is in seventh place in the Eastern Conference behind sixth-place Montreal (40 points), which was buried in an avalanche of goals at Audi Field 5-0 on Saturday before a sellout crowd of 20,573. The top six teams in the conference make the playoffs.

The D.C. club returns to action Sunday at 1 p.m. at home against a struggling Chicago Fire (8-16-7, 31 points) squad. United is 9-2-2 at home this season and has outscored opponents 30-15 at home, while being outscored by 10 goals on the road.

“It is always good for us as players to have the crowd behind us,” Canouse said. “It gives us a lot of motivation to keep playing and stay positive no matter what the game situation is. That (win over Montreal) was obviously very entertaining for them. It is an electric atmosphere.”

Canouse has a personal connection to Audi Field crowd.

His Lancaster hometown is only about 120 miles north of Audi Field and Canouse had 13 family and friends on hand for the match against Montreal. His father plans to attend the match on Sunday.

After playing about seven years in Germany, Canouse signed with United in August 2017 and played in 10 matches last season.

That experience in Europe creates some common ground with Rooney, who has seven goals in 15 matches, that other Americans don’t share.

“It has come up in a couple of conversations,” Canouse said.

A knee injury kept Canouse off the pitch to start this season, but he has now played in 15 matches with 12 starts, and has one assist.

United plays its next four matches at home, and then ends regular-season play Oct. 28 at Chicago.

“I don’t want to jinx us, but we are playing well,” United goalie Bill Hamid said.

United has not lost since Aug. 29, but will be without Oniel Fisher. The defender injured his knee Saturday and is out for the year after playing in 24 matches this season.

“(Fisher) was a big figure on the team this year,” Canouse said. “We will figure it out.”

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