“To be a leader you have to have a strong personality.” – SKC manager Peter Vermes
Fiery… Intense… Passionate…
All terms that describe Johnathon Simpson Snedden Russell, better known as Johnny Russell to his fans. And now he can be called Captain.
Russell has been officially named the 2021 Sporting Kansas City Captain for the upcoming season by manager Peter Vermes.
“It’s a massive thing for me and something I won’t take lightly. I think everyone knows by now what you are going to get from me, it’s not going to change anything but from a personal point of view it’s a massive honor,” Russell stated via video.
Kansas City legend Matt Besler, who was the leader of the team in some very successful seasons resulting in multiple ladder climbs to paint the wall, ended up departing in the offseason.
With Besler now in Austin, the captaincy needed to be filled and it did not seem like a difficult choice for Vermes. “It was a very simple decision,” said Vermes. “Johnny has natural leadership qualities, his personality, he’s for sure type A and I think it lends itself to him not being afraid to step in and take charge, take the lead, especially in tough moments.”
With Besler fighting some injuries and seeming to struggle to hold on to a starting spot last season, Russell was one of the players that frequently wore the captain’s armband in the difficult pandemic shortened season.
“I thought last year, the times he was captain for us, he changed in a very positive way,” Vermes explained. “He took that on as a real responsibility. I know the other players look up to him a lot, I know he is a good leader and someone to follow.”
Russell wore the armband ten times for SKC in 2020, helping lead the team to six wins, three draws and just one loss which was their last game in the playoffs. Many of those games were without key contributors Alan Pulido and Gadi Kinda as injuries and call-ups came into play.
It did not take long...
When Russell joined SKC in 2018, he quickly became a force to reckon with as he would often display a knack for splitting two defenders to create a chance on goal or set up a teammate that made the highlight reels. That first year Russell put in ten goals and added ten assists to help lead Sporting KC to the most goals and highest goal differential in club history.
“It (the captain) has to be somebody that the players respect, it also has to be a guy that you expect is going to be on the field regularly because of the way that he plays, the way he trains every day, all of those things. The final piece is he has to be an extension of me and the rest of the staff. I would also say it has to be someone with a strong personality. To be a leader you have to have a strong personality.” – Vermes
Everyone on the team knows Russell now and understands how he will fight for the team but that may have not been as evident when he first joined the team. If there were any doubts though, he dispelled those in his eighth league game. SKC was playing Vancouver and Kendall Waston committed a foul that would not surprise any MLS fans. Waston went in with studs out on Roger Espinoza and then stood over him after the foul. Russell ran from the far corner to “kindly” ask Waston to back away with “gentle” nudge.
The resulting scrum of players ended up with Vancouver receiving two red cards for various fouls upon Russell while the SKC winger only received a yellow.
SKC already led 3-0 at that point and Russell had two of those. It would have been easy to think that they had the game in hand let is slide and move on. It would be easy to not rile up a minor melee but that is not Russell’s style. He gives his all in every game but that day, he showed his teammates, and the Kansas City fans not only what kind of player, but what kind of person he is. He was not going to let Waston foul Espinoza and then stand over him like that unchallenged.
The final would be 6-0, Russell would tally another before subbing off early in the second half
As Vermes would say, he has a “strong” personality.
Fellow Scot and former Kansas City star Mo Johnston was instrumental in helping land Russell from Derby County in England. Now, Russell becomes the ninth captain for Sporting KC named in club history and follows in Johnston’s footsteps as the club captain.
Primary captains in #SportingKC history:— Kurt Austin (@kaustin01) March 10, 2021
*Many other players have worn the armband or served as co/vice-captains for the club since '96