Defensive players don’t usually get the headlines on a soccer field. From Pele to Maradona to Ronaldo to Beckham to Messi, offense has been the ticket to international fame.
St. Mary’s High School soccer captain Michael Russo of Lynn understands the plight of unsung defensive players. He is the undisputed backbone of the Spartans’ defense that has helped lift the team to the 2012 Catholic Central League championship.
Russo scored a goal in the Spartans’ 5-0 victory over Austin Prep in the State Tournament Sunday at Manning Field. The 13-3-3 Spartans were set to play Rockport in the quarterfinals.
“Playing as a defender and not getting many goals, it feels good to score a goal in a tournament game,” said Russo.
Russo’s defensive prowess at sweeper and his leadership have earned praise from teammates, coaches, and the principal of the school, Carl DiMaiti.
DiMaiti, whose son, Drew DiMaiti, plays next to Russo on defense for the Spartans, said the senior has set an outstanding example as a leader of the Catholic Central League champions.
“I’ve known Michael since he was in the seventh grade,” said DiMaiti. “He’s just an all-around great kid, an excellent student, and a tremendous role model to the younger kids. I couldn’t be happier for his success in our soccer program.”
Goalkeeper Helio Neto admires the way Russo conducts himself on the field.
“Mike is one of the best sweepers I’ve ever had,” said Neto, who has eight shutouts this season. “He knows when he has to clear the ball out and it makes my job ten times easier.”
Russo was asked what has been the vital ingredient in the Spartans’ success.
“It’s been teamwork and being like a family,” said Russo. “
Russo developed his game in the Lynn Youth Soccer Association, improving at every level. He branched out to club soccer for the MPS Knights and has excelled against elite competition.
He said coach Mike D’Agostino has been an outstanding teacher of the game and a great motivator who instills confidence in his players.
“Coach D’Agostino has been a great help to all the players,” said Russo. “For me personally he’s done a lot to reach out to college coaches and programs. I feel that listening to what my coaches tell me has made be a better player.”
The St. Mary’s coach said Russo has been one of the team’s most outstanding players for the past three seasons and stepped up his game to another level this season.
“Mike is the backbone of my team – a senior captain in the back line,” said D’Agostino. “He stepped up big versus Austin Prep and he’s been a huge help throughout the whole season. He’s a league all-star who has been huge for us. I give credit to our two outstanding captains in Mike and Xan (Alleyne).”
Though he is a defender, Russo recognizes the important offensive contributions of his fellow captain, Alexander Alleyne.
“He’s just a great player and his 21 goals this season have brought a lot of attacking to our offense,” said Russo. He’s given us a tremendous boost.”
Russo said he draws inspiration from having Drew DiMaiti and Steven Stanko as partners on the back line. “We work really well and really hard together and our goalkeeper has also done a great job.”
Russo hopes to continue his soccer career at college. He is applying to Southern New Hampshire, Merrimack, Bentley, St. Anselm, and New England College.
Bob Russo, a St. Mary’s soccer booster parent, is enjoying the final weeks of his son’s four-year high school career.
“He’s been playing really hard for four years and made some big plays on defense,” said Russo. “I think they can go far in the tournament.”
Carol Russo remembers his son’s introduction to the sport.
“He started in Lynn Youth Soccer and he loved it,” said Russo. “Ever since he was about three, he’s enjoyed playing the game.”
St. Mary’s has been an excellent choice for their son who enrolled in the school as a seventh grader.
“We wanted a smaller, intimate setting for a school and it’s been a great fit for him,” said Carol Russo. “From the beginning he didn’t want to look at any other school but St. Mary’s.”
Michael Russo was the rookie of the year at St. Mary’s and won the coaches’ award last season. He already has a league all-star award on his resume for this season and he’ll surely pick up some more hardware at the banquet on November 15.
But as he’s been conveying to his teammates, the victories, especially come tournament time, outweigh any individual awards.