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.”