Men’s Soccer: Russell Payne named as head coach


Daily file photo by Evan Robinson Johnson

Members of Northwestern’s Men’s Soccer team stand at midfield. Russell Payne was officially announced as the team’s next head coach Friday afternoon.

Drew Schott, Sports Editor

Men’s Soccer

Northwestern has announced the successor to legendary men’s soccer coach Tim Lenahan. 

Army head coach Russell Payne will become the Wildcats’ next head coach, according to a Friday afternoon press release. 

“I am honored and inspired to be leading this program,” Payne said in the release. “We are committed to being unified in the daily pursuits of excellence in all areas of our lives while building champions in the classroom and on the field. “ 

Payne spent 11 seasons in West Point following assistant coaching stints at Maryland and George Washington and a playing career in the United States and Europe. 

With the Black Knights, Payne coached 31 All-Patriot League selections and a two-time Patriot League Goalkeeper of the Year in Winston Boldt. He also mentored Zac McGraw, a two-time Patriot League Defender of the Year who became the first Army player selected in the Major League Soccer SuperDraft. 

Even though Army did not make the NCAA Tournament during his tenure, Payne led the Black Knights to the Patriot League Championship for the first time since 1996. He also signed the No. 18 recruiting class nationally in 2020. 

Payne was selected after a three-month search chaired by Deputy Director of Athletics and Chief Financial Officer Kevin White and Associate Athletic Director for Facilities and Operations Marcus Attles. 

“His track record of identifying, recruiting and developing high-character and talented student-athletes is outstanding, and his broad experiences as a player and coach inform a deep understanding of the game,” Athletic Director Mike Polisky said. 

Payne has served in various roles for the United States National program. Since 2017, he has been an assistant coach and goalkeepers coach for the U-14, U-15 and U-19 Boys National Team and U-15 Girls National Team. Previously, he had the same positions with the Men’s National Team from 2015-2017 and the U-20 Men’s National Team from 2012-2015. 

Before arriving in West Point, the Maryland alumnus coached with Sasho Cirovski in College Park from 2005-09. Payne was a part of two national championship teams in 2005 and 2008 and worked with 12 MLS draft picks, including Jason Garey — the ACC Player of the Year and No. 3 overall pick in the 2006 MLS SuperDraft. 

As a player for Cirovski, Payne started in goal for four seasons and helped lead Maryland to three straight NCAA Tournament appearances. As a senior, he registered an .835 save percentage to help the Terrapins win their first ACC Tournament Championship. 

“Russell is made of the right stuff,” Cirovski said in the release. “He is a tireless worker, a personable recruiter and a skilled tactician. He is an incredibly competitive, caring and compassionate person that knows how to develop leaders and is the perfect person to build upon the highly respected program that Tim Lenahan has built.”

Payne began coaching after graduation, spending the 1997 season as the graduate assistant goalkeeper coach with his alma mater and 1997-98 as a volunteer goalie coach at George Washington. He then embarked on his professional career from 1998-2005. 

After spending time in the MLS with D.C. United, the Colorado Rapids and the New York/New Jersey Metrostars, Payne went overseas and played in Germany, Ireland and the Netherlands. His best season was in 2002 when he earned Premier League of Ireland Goalkeeper of the Year with Derry City. 

In Evanston, Payne is replacing a storied member of NU men’s soccer history. Lenahan, who announced his retirement prior to the 2021 spring season, is the winningest coach in Cats history with 305 victories over two decades. 

The 2011 Big Ten Coach of the Year, Lenahan led NU to its first Big Ten Tournament title in 2011 and earned regular-season conference championships in 2011 and 2012. Additionally, he guided the Cats to nine NCAA Tournament appearances from 2004 to 2014, including spots in the national quarterfinals in 2006 and 2008.

“Northwestern is truly an amazing place and Tim Lenahan deserves a tremendous amount of credit for building this program into what it is today,” Payne said in the release. 

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