Apr 20, 2018; Kansas City, KS, USA; Sporting KC forward Johnny Russell (7) reacts after getting shoved to the ground by Vancouver Whitecaps forward Yordi Reyna (29) during the first half at Children's Mercy Park. Mandatory Credit: Peter G. Aiken/USA TODAY Sports
KANSAS CITY — In the seldom moments when Sporting Kansas City goalkeeper Tim Melia had contact with the ball late Friday night, sarcastic cheers rang out. It was that kind of night for Kansas City (5-1-2, 17 points). A 6-0 win over Vancouver (3-4-1, 10 points) and an 11-on-9 advantage the entire second half provided light work for Melia.
The win further cemented SKC’s place atop the Western Conference standings. Vancouver had a steady hold on third place entering Friday’s match, but the dismantling in Kansas City puts the Whitecaps at risk of being surpassed depending on results the rest of the weekend.
The night seemed borderline ridiculous from the beginning. And Johnny Russell – relatively unheralded when he transplanted from Europe in the offseason – escalated Sporting’s season to a new level.
In the 10th minute, he took a perfect Roger Espinoza cross onto his right foot and launched a shot through a crowd of defenders to hook a goal just inside the far post.
Not even seven minutes later, Russell attacked against a hopelessly backpedaling Efraín Juárez. Russell shuffled on either side of the ball and danced his way into enough space to fire another shot. The ball hugged inside the same far post that had been so kind moments earlier, giving Russell a brace and Sporting a 2-0 lead in the 16th minute. The announced 19,690 fans at Children’s Mercy Park were in a frenzy.
“We were locked into the game, right from the get-go,” SKC coach Peter Vermes said. “We were concentrated. The guys were very aggressive and also they were very comfortable and they were moving the ball very quickly, especially early on, when we were 11-v-11. The aggressive mindset we had in and around the box and the way we were trying to win the ball back when we lost it — all those things are, I think, a part of our DNA, and when we play like that, I think we’re a tough team to play against.”
Frustration mounted for Vancouver, especially after Jimmy Medranda added to Kansas City’s lead with a golazo from nearly 30 yards out.
Soon after Medranda’s goal the match devolved into a 36th-minute melee that left two Vancouver players ejected, Russell yellow-carded and half the Whitecaps chasing the official to argue.
After a challenge near midfield, Vancouver’s Kendall Waston stood over a crumpled Espinoza, shouting. Russell took offense and sprinted over to get in Waston’s face. Officials reviewed the subsequent near-brawl and handed red cards to Juárez and Yordy Reyna for their roles in the scrum. Russell receiving only a yellow card delighted the crowd.
“You stick up for your teammates,” Russell said. “Every team does it; every player does it. You never want to see anyone sent off and that was unfortunate, but I’m still going to stick up for my teammates, just like their players did for theirs.”
The entire second half, Sporting played with a two-man advantage and doubled its 3-0 lead. Russell, of course, led the charge, completing his hat trick in the 48th minute. Matt Besler threaded the needle and Russell traced a path down the baseline, putting away his third goal of the night.
“From a personal point of view, it’s always good to score any goal but to get three is real important for me,” Russell said.
Adding to the misery for Vancouver were Christian Lobato, who scored two minutes after subbing on for Russell, and Yohan Croizet, who scored his first goal in Major League Soccer. Those two set the final scoreline that put Kansas City seven points clear of second place in the Western Conference.
But those final two goals also differed slightly from the rest. At that point, with the field already littered in blue and white, Sporting stopped shooting confetti in celebration out of sympathy for the grounds crew that would have to clean it up afterwards.