Aug 25, 2018; Kansas City, KS, USA; Sporting KC defender Graham Zusi (8) battles for the ball with Minnesota United FC forward Angelo Rodriguez (9) during the first half at Children's Mercy Park. Mandatory Credit: Peter G. Aiken/USA TODAY Sports
KANSAS CITY — Sporting Kansas City forward Johnny Russell’s season has been headlined by his goals (a team-leading eight of them). But it was his ability to assist that drove his success Saturday night. Russell assisted on both of Sporting Kansas City’s goals, in a 2-0 home win over Minnesota United FC.
“Johnny’s incredibly creative,” Kansas City manager Peter Vermes said. “He can beat guys himself and score, make his own goal. And at the same time, he has the ability to provide service and give the final pass as well. He’s a very crafty guy.”
In the 47th minute, Yohan Croizet – who had just subbed on at the beginning of the half in place of Felipe Gutierrez – took a ball Russell slipped him through traffic in the box. Sandwiched between two defenders on his move towards the goal, Croizet squeezed his shot between them and into the back of the net.
That gave Sporting (13-6-6) a 1-0 lead after a slow first half that saw them put only two shots on frame. Not enough movement was the reason behind a sluggish start, according to Vermes
“The only problem was in the final third, we just didn’t have enough movement,” Vermes said of the first half. “We weren’t dynamic enough. … And so when we made the change at halftime (subbing Croizet on), I told him, ‘I know there’s going to be moments where you have to be conservative, but there’s going to be other moments where you’re going to have to be extremely aggressive and make some penetrating runs.”
“Our movement wasn’t great,” Russell said of the opening 45 minutes. “We weren’t really exploiting them, so that was something we spoke about. To come out and get the goal so early always helps and it creates more space.”
Fifteen minutes after Croizet’s goal, Russell found himself in a similar central position in the box. This time, his pass from the middle landed at Diego Rubio’s feet. Rubio took a touch and then a few steps forward, and slashed a shot into the back corner of the net, doubling Sporting’s lead.
The Children’s Mercy Park crowd launched into its signature “Johnny Russell” chant, despite the goal coming from Rubio.
Saturday’s result against Minnesota United (9-15-2) was Sporting’s fourth straight shutout win. The team hasn’t conceded a goal in the month of August.
“I think these were a massive three points tonight,” Vermes said. “It puts us right back up into where we want to be, and it’s not just in our conference; I think it’s with the rest of the league. We’re in the mix right now and we want to make sure that we continue to try to strive to get as many points as we can.”