Twenty-eight-year-old winger Johnny Russell was signed from English Championship side Derby County in January. His Scottish accent, his tattoos, and his enthusiasm for Sporting Kansas City and MLS quickly made Russell a fan favorite. Yet his five MLS goals – especially his April 30th hat trick (and six helpers) – and his goal and two assists in US Open Cup play have made him a hero. Currently, Sporting KC is second in MLS’s Western Conference and is into the Quarterfinals in the US Open Cup.
In a Question-and-Answer sit down with The Blue Testament, Johnny Russell talks his recent goal scoring drought, his leadership, the team’s recent losses, family life, MLS, Saturday’s fixture versus Toronto, Felipe Gutierrez’s coming return, and his favorite moments thus far. Oh, by the way, he’s been pushing for France in the World Cup from the start. Vive La France… on to the semis!
The Blue Testament: You have experienced over half of a MLS season now. Is MLS what you expected?
Johnny Russell: “You never know what to expect coming somewhere new. It was the same when I went to England; I didn’t know what to expect either. I knew it was going to be tough. And the same when I came here; I knew it was going to be difficult, coming into a new league, a new environment, a new life as well. Everything’s completely different. But the standard of the league has been extremely high. We’ve had some great games here. I’ve been really impressed, and I’ve enjoyed my time here.”
TBT: How is the family adapting?
JR: “Yeah, it’s all good. We were staying in an apartment for a while. We’ve actually, just last week, moved into a home. We’ve got more space for everyone, some space for the little one to run about outside. She’s delighted with that. I’ve got some family over at the moment as well. Up until the end of the season, I’ve got a good period with friends and family coming over.”
TBT: There has been a bit of a rough patch for you as far as scoring recently – obviously a nice assist the other night, however – so what does Johnny Russell need to do to get through that patch?
JR: “Yeah, it’s been tough. From a personal point of view, I got off to a great start, and the team as well. That was all positive. I don’t feel I’m doing anything much different than I was earlier in the season. I’m sure when I get a couple of chances, I’ll put them away. Obviously, I’d like to get a lot more myself. But if I’m contributing and I’m a part of a winning team, I’m always going to be happy. I do want more for myself; you have to be selfish in that way at times. But we are getting goals throughout the team. Daniel is doing really well at the moment and leading the way up front. We’ve all had our spells where we’ve done it, and he’s doing it at the moment, and I’m delighted for him.”
Russell’s MLS Goal of the Week April 8 at LA Galaxy:
TBT: Have opposing defenses ‘figured out’ Johnny Russell in some ways?
JR: “Recently, it’s been a lot harder. I wouldn’t say they’ve figured me out. But as time goes on, people have found out my strengths. They are not stopping them, but limiting certain aspects. I have found over the past while that it has been a little bit harder for myself, but it’s up to me to find ways to come out of that. It has been a little bit frustrating not scoring as much as I would like recently. But I’m not one who is going to shy away and change anything; I’m going to continue to do what I’ve done at the start.”
TBT: What has been your favorite moment thus far?
JR: The comebacks have been the most satisfying. Obviously, getting my first goal was a nice feeling. The hat trick was nice. The Chicago [Fire] comeback [4-3 March 10], my second game, that was crazy. The comeback a few weeks ago [3-2 vs Houston, June 23]. Yohan’s goal as well, in the last minute, to come back and win a game like that [3-2 over FC Dallas in June 16 Open Cup match]; probably from a team point of view, that’s been my favorite.
TBT: Influential midfielder Felipe Gutierrez is near returning (According to a Sporting KC source, August 1 is still the target for his return.). What will his return mean for the team in the latter half of the season?
JR: It’s going to be huge. We only got to see a small preview of what he was about. He scored some big goals for us. You are going to miss a player of that quality. It just goes to show the quality that we got throughout that the guys that have stepped in haven’t looked out of place and have played brilliant. But to have someone like Felipe back is only going to be good for the team and a huge push for the second half of the season.
TBT: It seems that you have taken a leadership role within the club. Is that accurate? And has that always been within your nature?
JR: I’m not a huge vocal leader. Being one of the more experienced guys [I feel I should be a leader.] Throughout our team, there are leaders all over. We have a really good group who are [leaders]. But [leading] is not something I actively look to do. I’m a passionate guy when I play, so I feel if that brings out a little bit to someone else, I’m doing my job.
TBT: Sporting Kansas City is two on a row in losses. What needs to be done to stop the current trend?
JR: “A bit flat at the minute, a rough patch, but all teams do that. Yet the good teams come out of it. I have no doubt that the team that we’ve got, and the ability that we’ve got, that we will come out of it. Tomorrow [July 6, Toronto FC] is a massive game to go and show that.”
TBT: Thank you for your time and talents, Johnny. Good luck come Saturday evening.