Sporting Kansas City has been on a bit of a roll lately, winning their last three and shutting out their opponents in each match. In those three games, Diego Rubio started twice and came off the bench once, adding three goals to his total. Gerso Fernandes has a goal and started all three and has perhaps played his best games in a year. Daniel Salloi started those three as well and contributed an assist and some very solid work for Sporting KC.
Missing from that starting lineup has been Johnny Russell. SKC’s Scottish attacker started 18 of the first 20 games for Sporting KC. Missing one game for a national team callup where he played the full 90 in Mexico and one match where he came in at half for a solid 45 plus.
That string of starts ended with an injury prior to the July 28th game, a 3-2 loss to FC Dallas in Kansas City, a match SKC could have used his offense and grit. Russell then missed SKC’s 1-0 win at Houston but was on the bench for Sporting KC’s win at LAFC, getting just 4 minutes at the end.
When Sporting KC returned home to face the Portland Timbers, Russell was again on the bench, this time joining the match in the 69th minute. Once Russell was on the field he seemed determined to make his mark. Several dangerous attempts at goal ensued, culminating in him putting one in the net in the 89th minute.
It seemed to be a bit of relief at getting another goal but even more so a statement that he wants to play.
“It’s nice to get back, you never want to get injured at any stage of the season,” Russell told The Blue Testament. “It was unfortunate I got a twist in my knee and couldn’t quite get through the first few days. After that it was all about building to get back. I’ve got myself back but the guys have been brilliant, so I find it a bit hard to get myself back in the lineup. I’m still finding it kind of hard, the guys in front of me are putting in performances. I’m happy for them but at the same point you want to be playing yourself, but I am delighted for the guys.”
Russell had been regularly playing for Derby County in England before signing with Sporting KC. Since the start of the 2017-18 season for Derby County, Russell has been playing almost non-stop. With nearly 50 matches under his belt in all competitions with both teams, Russell has played a lot of games with not a lot of rest.
Did the little bit of time off for injury give him a little bit of a break? Not according to Russell, nor does he want one.
“With the injury I was only out for maybe 4 or 5 days from actual training,” Russell explained. “So apart from that I was still doing all the stuff we normally do but without games to look forward to so it was disappointing from that point of view. I supposed it did give me a few days rest that maybe I would not have got but at the same point, I’ve played this long, I would rather just keep playing.”
Making the decisions
For manager Peter Vermes, he’s been a player and understands that desire to play but as the manager needs to make sure he is not letting a player run themselves into the ground. “It’s important to be smart around how we use him, especially towards the end of the year to keep him in a place where he doesn’t get overused. I know enough about his personality that he doesn’t think that is an effect, he doesn’t want to be in that situation,” Vermes stated before practice.
“It is something for me, I have to make that decision. As much as I talk to these guys and respect what they say, there is times when I know how competitive they are, and I have to be the one to make those decisions. I know what they want but I know what is best,” Vermes explained.
Vermes can see that Russell wants to be out there for every minute possible. “It is the competitiveness,” Vermes added. “You don’t want to allow yourself to not be there, especially when you love the game and want to play and want to help the team. He is that kind of guy, so I have to make the decisions.”
When asked if not getting some starts would help keep Russell fired up to play, Vermes was quick to respond. “I do not need to do that to him, he has that quality in him already.”
Russell doesn’t need motivation to play but getting a little rest for his legs could pay off as Sporting KC’s enters their last ten game stretch before the playoffs.
Training: “A bit of bite”
“Training is where you put in the hard work and if you do everything right in training the games should come, well not easy but you should know what you need to do,” Russell observed. “That’s what’s been happening, we’ve been working the last two weeks especially leading up to the LA game and then leading up to this game. The training has been really good, it’s had a bit of bite in it and everybody seems to be pulling in the same direction and everyone wants it for each other. It’s been a good three weeks.”
It’s exciting to be a part of this group
There is little argument that when Sporting KC is in form, they are an exciting team to watch. With a variety of different attackers, they are on pace to potentially set a new club scoring record.
“No matter who is there, whomever is there will do a job and is going to produce something. It’s exciting to play on a team like that.” Russell stated. “Every time you step out on the field you think something going to happen no matter who is on the ball. I don’t want to be sitting and watching but it is exciting to watch and at the end of the day it is my mates and I want them to do well. When they produce something, I am the first one on my feet, we are all behind each other, all striving for the same thing and pushing for the same goal.”
“We are versatile everywhere. We have got a lot of guys from different backgrounds and different cultures. You grow up differently playing the sport so it’s exciting that we have such a different combination of players. It’s exciting to be a part of,” Russell concluded.