KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Sporting Kansas City was going to need something pretty special to get its swagger back and end a winless streak nearly two months long.
Enter Johnny Russell, who has a tendency to arrange these kinds of things. His hat trick Sunday boosted Kansas City back into the win column when the team needed it the most, and provided enough of a margin to withstand Seattle’s two goals at Children’s Mercy Park.
SKC’s 3-2 win against the Sounders came on the tail end of what’s been a miserable spring stretch. In the midst of getting knocked out of the Concacaf Champions League tournament, Kansas City also went on an seven-game skid through MLS play, going 0-3-4. But Russell had something to say about that streak stretching to eight. He became the second player in Sporting KC history to notch multiple hat tricks for the club (his first came last year).
“We said before the game it’s been far too long that we haven’t won a game,” Russell said. “No other result was going to be good enough today.”
He put action (times three) behind those words.
In the 29th minute, Yohan Croizet put forth an individual effort on the far side to keep Russell’s first chance alive. On a full sprint, he stumbled, but got up in time to keep possession, muscle away a defender and pop it over to Russell, who was streaking into the box. Russell took two steps and rocketed the ball into the near corner, out of Seattle goalkeeper Stefan Frei’s reach.
The roar from the stands was one that had been held in for weeks as SKC stumbled through its winless streak. Before Sunday, the last win came March 30 against Montreal.
Russell’s second goal, coming during first-half stoppage time, sent the crowd into even more of a frenzy. Charging down the right flank, with a cluster of four defenders in front of him, Russell dribbled through a seemingly impossible gap. He launched a shot from the space he cleared and put it in the same corner he’d scored in earlier.
“The second one was ridiculous,” midfielder Benny Feilhaber said. “I was telling him, ‘Don’t they know that you don’t like to pass the ball?’ It was a parting of the red seas. It was amazing.”
The Sounders answered in the 63rd minute with a Raul Ruidiaz goal that brought them within one goal.
But again, Russell, this time in the 68th minute. After another battle for possession from Croizet, Kelyn Rowe took the ball at the top of the box. He tapped it over to Russell, who – there was no doubt in anyone’s mind – took a shot. His goal gave Sporting KC a 3-1 lead and a little breathing room.
“Johnny has incredible individual talent, and when you see what he did today … we needed it,” Sporting KC head coach Peter Vermes said. “It came at a great time. That’s what you need from special players like him. It’s not when things are going really well and then he sticks in three because you’re winning 5-0 or 3-0 already. He was a different class tonight.”
Seattle pulled back within one again off a Kelvin Leerdam header in the 71st minute after earning a corner kick. And it took some excellent off-the-line goalkeeping from Tim Melia in the 75th minute to keep another Seattle shot from equalizing.
But Sporting KC finally left the field with three points — for the first time in 57 days.
“We felt it was coming for a while,” Russell said. “We’ve been a bit unfortunate at times, made it hard for ourselves as well. I think today we showed at times the Sporting that everyone knows.”