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Johnny Russell scores for first time since April in Sporting KC’s 2-2 draw with Toronto

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — It had been more than two months since Johnny Russell scored his hat trick against Vancouver. After that April night, Russell didn’t find the back of the net again until Saturday, when his goal against Toronto broke the drought and put Sporting ahead 2-1 before the team eventually ended the night in a 2-2 tie.

In the 62nd minute, just five minutes after an Ilie Sanchez penalty kick tied the hosts up with Toronto, Diego Rubio found himself in traffic near the box. He smoothly maneuvered the ball out and sent a perfectly-placed pass into Russell, who shot it just out of reach of Toronto keeper Alexander Bono.

Russell casually completed a standing front flip near the corner of the field in celebration, the first time he could celebrate a goal of his own in 78 days.

What would have been Sporting’s game-winning goal was overshadowed by Toronto’s equalizer seven minutes later. Jordan Hamilton created space for himself near midfield and sent a rocket in from distance, which Melia wasn’t quick enough to save. That initiated a 69th-minute tie that neither team could extricate itself from.

Still, SKC manager Peter Vermes was OK with the result, especially considering it was Kansas City’s third match in eight days. The last couple weeks have stuffed Sporting’s injury report, and several young players have had to play significant minutes. Jaylin Lindsey and Wan Kuzain both started Saturday.

“Very, very proud of the guys, great effort from the opening whistle,” Vermes said. “I’ve said this before, and it’s never a disrespectful comment: It’s hard to have Linds and Kuz to play so many games in a row when they’re as young as they are … Frankly, they’re punching above their weight class at the moment.”

Kansas City was on its heels early, and Toronto took advantage. Jonathan Osorio translated a laser of a cross into a goal slipped just past a diving Tim Melia. That 24th minute goal was the difference in a 1-0 first half.

The closest Sporting got to scoring in the first half was a misplaced Russell header that bounced six inches wide of the far post in the seventh minute.

“On another night, we score two, three more goals,” Russell said. “Tonight wasn’t our night in that sense, but I think we showed some positive signs of us getting back to what we were doing before.”

Coming back from that early 1-0 deficit was a good sign for a team that hasn’t had a win in its last three matches.

“Our energy levels were high, our commitment to the game was where it needed to be and for the most part the execution was there as well,” defender Matt Besler said. “That looked like a typical Sporting Kansas City performance. I know the result wasn’t there and that’s the most important part, but when you go back and rewatch the game and break down the things we look for and who we are and our identity, it was a good performance overall.”

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