One. Two. Three. Each more satisfying than the one before. On Sunday evening at Children’s Mercy Park in Kansas City, Kansas, Johnny Russell once again proved that there is only one Johnny Russell, leading Sporting Kansas City (3-4-5) to a much-needed win over visiting Seattle Sounders (7-2-5).
Coming into their Sunday home match v Seattle Sounders, it was simple for 11th place Sporting Kansas City. Nine straight matches without a win in all competitions for Sporting was tempered only by the seven-game winless run in MLS play, the club’s longest since May of 2016. Three points would be a concrete step towards some needed momentum.
However, the string of injuries continued to hamper the side. Once again, the bench was limited to only five players, and the starting lineup was short five “regular” starters, augmented by the red-card suspension of center forward Kristzian Nemeth.
Starting in Nemeth’s spot was Yohan Croizet, flanked by Johnny Russell and Kelyn Rowe, supported by a midfield of Felipe Gutierrez, Benny Feilhaber, and Illie Sanchez. The backline was manned by Nicolas Hasler, Botond Barath, Captain Matt Besler, and Seth Sinovic, backstopped by Tim Melia.
The antagonistic Sounders, on only one defeat on the season and amidst a six-game unbeaten run, were short midfielders Gustav Svensson and Victor Rodriquez, and striker Jordan Morris.
Three attacks, featuring two shots on goal, showed Sporting to be spry on the day. Gutierrez tested Seattle netminder Stefan Frei from distance and Russell nodded a strong attempt right at the Swiss native.
Sporting’s attacking verve continued, though to lesser effect, through the 13th minute when Roman Torres was cautioned for a foul on Rowe at the top of Seattle’s area. The resulting free kick from 19 yards by Russell was sent over the bar.
It was Sporting’s turn in the 27th minute as Feilhaber upended Cristian Roldan near the KC edge of midfield circle for the caution.
Sporting took the next first, however, getting on the board in the 29th minute. Croizet stumbled onto a through ball from Hasler to then turn on his marker Kim Kee-hee. With his back to the end line, the Frenchman laid off for a present Russell who extended for one touch then hit a educated finish with his left that bounded inside the far post, safely out of the reach of the well-positioned Frei. The goal was the Scots fifth of the season off the first assist of the year for Croizet.
Rowe, endeavoring for his Sporting goal in MLS, was put in by a wonderful ball over the top by Besler seven minutes later. With a defender hawking him from behind, Rowe hit a volley that refused to dip in time as it sailed over the bar.
Kee-hee, beaten by Croizet earlier, was substituted out of the match in the 39th minute for MLS debutant, Xavier Arreaga.
A tale as old as Russell’s brief time in Kansas City unfolded to the joy of Sporting fans just into stoppage time. Gliding in from the right on his trusty left foot, Russell attracted three defenders. Cutting inside with his left, he threw one, before quickly tapping to his right and back to his left to befuddle two more and be in on Frei from eight yards. A deft flick of his foot later, the ball flew inside the far post, leaving Frei infuriated at his defense and a joyous celebration in the right corner in front of The Cauldron. The two-goal lead was the first Sporting held since March 30 in a 7-1 home shellacking of Montreal Impact.
Both first-half goals are featured here:
A mad flurry in front of the Seattle net elicited early oohs and ahhs from the sold out crowd in the mood for more from their heroes in the second half. Croizet flicked backwards in the Sounders’ box for an onrushing Gutierrez who lost out to a defending Torres. The ball squirted loose for Rowe whose attempt was deflected away from danger.
Yet, some deft play from guests made it a one-goal game in the 63rd minute. Leerdam who had ghosted between Rowe and Besler, was fed in the box. He spun past a passing Besler, who stepped off in an effort to avoid a foul in the box, and spotted an unmarked Raul Ruidiaz. The Peruvian hitched once after receiving the ball at the six just past the near post, then roofed his shot past a sprawling Tim Melia. The goal was Ruidiaz’s fifth goal in nine matches.
Touche, one could hear Johnny Russell whisper... And five minutes on, Russell completed his hat trick to restore Kansas City’s two-goal advantage. Rowe played conductor as he came in from the left and played for Croizet in the box with a man marking him tightly. Croizet released back to a continuing Rowe who dished for the man of the match positioned squarely on the right. Russell, using substitute Nouhou Tolo as a shield, struck another beauty inside the far post around the blinded Frei.
Melia denied a Shipp drive in the 70th minute, yet Seattle’s Leerdam scored a header on the ensuing corner to once keep the match within reach.
Four minutes later, it was Melia’s turn to be hero as he thrice denied the Sounders, first Ruidiaz at the top of the box, then Lodeiro from distance, then a following Shipp from close-range.
Though still long on action, two subs were prominent for Kansas City in the ensuing minutes as they tried to hold on for the victor. In the 79th, Graham Smith replaced an apparently hamstrung Besler; then back Jimmy Medranda returned from a knee injury that had kept him out since May 20 of last season to an approving roar from the crowd as he replaced Croizet in the 89th minute.
Sporting did enough to dodge some strong Seattle chances and Medranda rattled the near post in the last minutes of a compelling match, one that saw Sporting Kansas City gain their first three points since March 30.
Sporting will be quickly back in action as they host Western Conference third-place holders LA Galaxy Wednesday evening.