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Pitch Pit: Turf war at Portland’s Providence Park for Sporting KC

The battle to watch as Sporting tries for first away win of 2022.

SOCCER: MAR 12 MLS - Austin FC at Portland Timbers

A former Scottish International (and still one of MLS’s best) versus a rookie from Nevada.

Tonight, at Providence Park in Portland, Washington, Sporting Kansas City will kick off against Portland Timbers at 9:08pm. What is a key, if not the key, one-on-one matchup for the game?

Though each side could lineup with varying personnel (more on that later), Pitch Pit is playing the odds. The flank battle between Sporting’s Johnny Russell and Portland’s Justin Rasmussen will be a telling one in a match pitting two teams who have scored grand totals of three goals and one goal, respectively, in their last four MLS contests.

Vitals

Vitals Ht Wt Age MLS Seas 2021 Base Salary
Vitals Ht Wt Age MLS Seas 2021 Base Salary
Johnny Russell 5'10" 154 32 5th 1,600,000
Justin Rasmussen 6'0" 174 23 Rookie unknown

Wheres and What They Gots

Russell is a daring, go-right-at-you right winger in Sporting’s 4-3-3 who often plays off and in concert with his right back flank partner. Rasmussen is a left back in Portland’s 4-2-3-1, responsible for providing width in the Timbers’ attack and, of course, protecting the left flank and entry in Portland’s box.

Russell has spent significant minutes playing centrally as an attacking midfielder in both Sporting’s last league match – a 0-0 draw at New York City Football Club – and Tuesday’s Open Cup tilt – a 4-2 overtime besting of FC Dallas. If Russell lines up there, Rasmussen will likely hand off duties to defensive midfielder Eryk Williamson or Cristhian Paredes.

Telling Stats

Stats Int Duel % KP DRB % xG G g+
Stats Int Duel % KP DRB % xG G g+
Johnny Russell 6 96.2 15 54.8 1.92 2 -0.06
Justin Rasmussen 4 88.9 3 0 0.14 0 -0.23

(All stats from mlssoccer.com and americansocceranalysis.com.)

Russell sits at the top of a modest team goal scoring chart – tied with midfielder Remi Walter and opposite winger Daniel Salloi – with those two goals on the season. And that key passes number leads Sporting clear and free. Interestingly, Russell is second in shots taken with 20, but has only put four on goal. Additionally, the aggressive attacker is far above his teammates in fouls suffered with 22.

Latelies

Although Russell is carrying a nagging injury, he has been his usual non-stop, hard-working soldier. His penalty shot goal in the April 30th 2-2 home draw with FC Dallas may be what he needs to get on a goalscoring roll.

Rasmussen appeared a little naïve to movement in his territory and even a touch lackadaisical in Portland’s 1-1 draw at New York Red Bulls last Saturday; however, the rookie has gained the start with veteran Claudio Bravo out with a thigh injury in the last two matches. In the previous match, the Grand Canyon University product garnered the highest rating along the Timbers’ backline according to whoscored.com.

Ink Links

Sporting KC interview Johnny Russell says “I know I’m hot-headed at times.” - The Blue Testament

Countdown to Kickoff | Rookie Justin Rasmussen on his life in Portland | Portland Timbers

Tactics

Assuming the two battle often, the winner between the two in this pitch pit will come down to how tactically aware Rasmussen is, especially with right back Cam Duke (or whoever) combining with Russell, and who wins the physical battle. Russell will be Russell. Can Rasmussen contain his danger?