Heading into Sunday evening, Sporting KC fans probably weren’t feeling the most confident. Second place Seattle Sounders were coming into Children’s Mercy Park with 26 points through 13 games, while SKC sat on just 11 points through 11 games. Sporting KC’s injury sheet looked like it could be a starting XI on its own. It looked like it might end up being a long night for Sporting KC.
Then the game happened.
From the first kick, it looked like Sporting KC were the more dominant side. SKC created quality chances within the first two minutes and kept the attacking pressure on for the rest of the game. Thanks to Johnny Russell’s hat trick, Sporting slayed the mighty Sounders 3-2 to earn their first victory since March 30.
Here are my three observations from the big win.
Johnny Russell... pretty good!
Okay, let’s get this hot take out of the way right off the bat. Johnny Russell is good at soccer. There, I said it.
The 29-year-old Scottish winger had his way with Seattle all night long. He scored his first goal since April 15 when he put the ball in the back of the net in the 29th minute, and he didn’t let up from there. He nearly doubled his goal-scoring total on the season after Sunday’s game, now tied with Krisztian Nemeth for the team lead at seven MLS goals on the year.
All three of his goals were quality, but it was his second goal of the night that will be burned in our memories for years to come.
Russell received the ball in space on the right side of the midfield, and for some reason Seattle decided they didn’t need to close down on him. (Have they not watched ANY tape on Scottish Messi?!) Russell single handedly weaved through five Sounders defenders and clinically finished the chance into the bottom left corner. If one day Johnny is inducted into the Sporting Legends, this goal will surely be in the highlight reel.
Yohan Croizet might be Man of the Match
Well, here’s the real hot take. Yes, Johnny is Man of the Match. You can’t score a hat trick and lead your team to victory and not be. But Yohan Croizet had himself one hell of a game, and it needs to be talked about.
Sporting entered this game with literally zero available strikers, as Erik Hurtado continues to battle injuries and Krisztian Nemeth served a red card suspension. Many expected that Yohan would line up at striker (he really played a false nine, but that’s semantics), but I don’t think even Peter Vermes expected Yohan to have the type of game he did.
In some ways, this was the perfect game for Yohan to line up at striker. He’s a strong, powerful player, and he was going up against one of the largest players in MLS in Seattle CB Roman Torres. Torres was on Croizet all night long, but Croizet was able to use his size and power to find space and create problems for the Seattle back line throughout the game.
The most impressive play Yohan had was his assist to Johnny on the first goal. Yohan was played into space by Nico Hasler (who had a fantastic game in his own right), and totally manhandled Sounders CB Kim Kee-hee. He used his entire body to shield Kim from the ball, eventually forcing the CB to fall to the ground. Yohan then correctly played the ball back to the late-running Johnny Russell, who put the ball away for the goal.
The finish was nice, but this goal simply doesn’t happen without Yohan.
That's a baaaaad man right there. pic.twitter.com/KkOYeguHKk— Major League Soccer (@MLS) May 26, 2019
Peter Vermes said after the game that “I think Yohan had a really good performance for us today. He worked hard. He made it tough on their defenders. I think he put them under a lot of pressure. He’s an explosive guy with a lot of power and speed. I think they were a little bit surprised with that piece. He’s not somebody you can push off the ball. He’s a strong guy. I think he helped us.”
Matt Besler took the praise of Yohan a bit further, saying, “I told Yohan after the game for me he’d be the man of the match after the game if it wasn’t for Johnny scoring three goals. I was proud of the way he worked. He’s a guy that’s played in a ton of different positions. The number nine position is probably not his natural spot and requires a lot of work from him. He’s a guy that hasn’t played consistently for 90 minutes, so for him to go as long as he did is huge for us.”
Seattle just can’t win in Kansas City
Many people might be surprised with the result of the game, but maybe they shouldn’t be. In fact, the Sounders haven’t won a game in Kansas City since May 8, 2013. Since that time, SKC is 3-0-2 (W-L-D) against the Sounders in Kansas City.
We all know that Children’s Mercy Park is one of the toughest places to play in MLS. Many teams tend to have trouble when they visit Kansas City. Peter Vermes has talked at length before about how opponents often come in and “park the bus,” just trying to grind out a draw and get a result. That’s not what Seattle does. They come to play for three points every time, yet for some reason they can’t seem to put it together in Kansas City.
The Sounders did fight back twice in the game, pulling within a goal of SKC in both the 63rd and 71st minute thanks to goals by Raul Ruidiaz and Kelvin Leerdam, but Sporting KC were able to dig deep and hold on for the win. This is the type of game that SKC easily could have let get away from them and turn into a draw (as we all know too well given what happened against Vancouver), but they were able to dig deep and fend off Seattle once again. Perhaps this could be a turning point for the rest of the season!
Honorable mention: The Sporting KC fans
Yes, I said I had three observations, but I can’t finish this piece without mentioning the fans here and what they mean to this SKC team.
We know this team hadn’t been in form before Sunday. We know there have been frustrations all around. It’s easy for fans to give up on the team when that happens.
That’s not what Sporting KC fans do.
SKC super fan LeAnn figured out a way to go above and beyond to show the club how much they mean to the fans. She organized a group of fans to show up at Pinnacle on Saturday morning at 7:30 a.m. to surprise the team and show support.
We’re doing this, kids!! 7:30 am this Saturday!! I’m going to be sending out a group DM to people who have already said they want to come. If you want in, DM me or reply to this tweet. If I know numbers I can bring food maybe! @SportingKC we’ve got your back https://t.co/px457NenS6— LeAnn: Kansan. American. (Adopted) Aussie. (@prairiegirl0028) May 23, 2019
It was a pretty great idea and an awesome way to show the team that the fans are behind them no matter what. Given that it was a holiday weekend, and 7:30 a.m. is pretty early for some people (at least it is for me!), you never really know how things like this could go.
Well, it went well.
We’re a little bruised, but never broken - because of you.— Sporting KC (@SportingKC) May 25, 2019
Thank you to the fans that welcomed us to training this morning with cheers and support #SportingKC fans truly are the best in @MLS. #ForGloryForCity pic.twitter.com/z8Ck6kcz30
A large group of fans showed up to support the team, it certainly meant a lot to the team. I asked Johnny Russell after the game what it meant to him to have fans surprise them like this.
“It was amazing. It was a bit unexpected, to be honest, but it just goes to show how much they love our team here. They’ve been great with us. There’s a lot of places if you go through the sort of run we’ve went through the fans will turn on you, but they’ve been behind us every step of the way, no matter the result. They stay in numbers. That win is for them as much as it is for us.”
Look, you never know for sure why things come together for at any given time to snap a winless streak, but I can tell you for sure that in my opinion this absolutely had something to do with the win on Saturday. Well done to LeAnn and all the Sporting KC fans who showed up!