By Alana Thoman
U Sports Athlete of the Month (September) - Dominic Russo
Dominic Russo feels the weight of the Calgary Dinos’ poor playoff reputation.
“It’s just so frustrating,” says the fifth-year Dinos striker who has seen the team’s postseason end quickly, time and time again over the course of his career.
“Hopefully this year, we can change that story.”
In his rookie year in 2012, the Dinos lost in penalty kicks to the Trinity Western Spartans, while in his second season in 2013, they fell short to the Victoria Vikes in overtime. The last two years, Calgary suffered a pair of close 1-0 defeats, this time to Alberta and Trinity Western for a second time.
In attempts to help rewrite his team’s postseason narrative, the 22-year-old has been putting in the groundwork in the regular season to ensure that the Dinos have the best situation possible come playoff time.
Russo, who scored 15 of the Dinos’ Canada West-leading 45 goals as the regular season wrapped up Sunday night - including seven in the first month of the season - is the inaugural U Sports Male Athlete of the Month for September.
“It was really nice to get recognition on a national level like that,” says Russo. “I was pretty surprised.”
Brendan O’Connell, head coach of the Dinos men’s soccer team, isn’t. The Calgary bench boss has witnessed his player’s achievement, continuing to see the influence that the striker has on the field.
“His impact’s been massive,” O’Connell says. “He’s been an excellent athlete, and he does his job when he plays. He leads by example, he has a great attitude, and a lot of the young boys that come in aspire to be just like him.”
Before Russo was a senior athlete whom newcomers looked up to, his Dinos career was on a steady incline. In his first season, it wasn’t uncommon for Russo to be a part of the starting lineup. From there he got more and more playing time, and with that came two Canada West all-star nominations and the prestigious title of U Sports All-Canadian.
“He really went from strength to strength,” says O’Connell, adding that it will be hard to replace the striker when he leaves next year, but knows that Russo will go on to do great things.
“He could certainly, in my mind, earn a living as a sportsman, scoring goals,” says O’Connell. “If that doesn’t happen for him, which I hope it will, he’ll be a success in whatever he does.”
Russo is hopeful that he’ll be able to live out his childhood dream of playing pro soccer in Europe next year, but the arts and business major is still eyeing a career in finance with recreational soccer on the side. Regardless of the path he takes, Russo will never stop playing the game.
“Soccer pretty much consumes my life,” he says with a laugh. “If I was ever struggling in school or whatever, like personal relationships, I’d probably be having my best time at soccer... It’s the happiest place for me to be because it kind of takes everything off your mind.”
Still, the pressure to leave the Dinos with a better playoff record looms over his head. Having finished second in the Canada West Prairie Division with a 9-4-3 record, the Dinos’ fate will be determined Saturday, when they host Fraser Valley in a quarterfinal matchup. Bright futures and personal soccer accomplishments aside, crushing the Dinos’ short playoff reputation is what Russo is solely focused on.
“I think we have a great group of guys and we can make it all the way,” he says. “I honestly think we can this year.”