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Sporting Kansas City added depth, attacking options in search for stronger offense

Sporting Kansas City's Scottish striker Johnny Russell should strengthen the MLS team's offense in 2018. Here, he is seen with former team Derby County, taking on Manchester United's Armenian midfielder Henrikh Mkhitaryan during the English FA Cup on Jan. 5, 2018. (Lindsey Parnaby/AFP/Getty Images)

From frequently vacationing in the states to making his home in the middle of them, Johnny Russell is ready to kick off his Major League Soccer career in Kansas City.

A Scottish national who most recently played for Derby County in England, Russell was one of the bigger player signings for Sporting KC this offseason. And for a team that struggled offensively more than most last year, having him as another attacking option is a bonus to start the season.

Finding offensive aggression was a major piece to the offseason strategy, according to head coach Peter Vermes. The team scored only 40 goals in 34 matches last year.

“Guys that have a mentality to penetrate,” he said. “Last year we were the number one team in the league in possession — which, believe me, it’s a very important aspect to have in your game, to be able to keep the ball — but at the same time you have to have those moments where you can penetrate the back line of a team or the final third, and I think we’ve added players like that.”

The 27-year-old Russell, who for years harbored a desire to play in MLS and followed the league from afar, scored five goals in 25 appearances for Derby County this season.

The winger is also transferring to a system in Kansas City – Vermes’ signature 4-3-3 formation – where he believes familiarity can breed productivity.

“Once it sort of came about that it was Sporting Kansas City, I could properly look back and look at some footage, look back at how they play,” Russell said. “It’s a system that I’ve played for a few years, so I think in that sense it’s an easy transition. … It was an easy decision once I knew it was Sporting and I knew the way that they played.”

Russell joins other newcomers Khiry Shelton (forward) and Felipe Gutierre and Yohan Croizet (midfielders) as key acquisitions from the offseason.

“I think we have a lot more competition on our team,” Vermes said. “We’ve acquired a player in every single position, whether it be a one, two or three. That has helped immensely. I think we’re the deepest we’ve ever been.”

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