The only goal SKC needed came from a Johnny Russell header, the first time that’s happened this season, too. Following Russell’s free kick, Graham Smith chased down a ball before it went over the endline. With a well-placed chip, Smith got it back into the box to Russell, who headed in back across the goal for a 1-0 lead in the 12th minute. It was Smith’s first career MLS assist.
“It’s a hard ways to take the ball, bouncing like that, and (Smith) managed to put a great ball at the back post, and (I) managed to get up early and put it in the same direction it came,” Russell said.
Russell also said it was his first headed goal since last year against Real Salt Lake.
“I usually pull through with one or two a year,” he joked.
Kansas City’s best chance to double its lead came just five minutes after Russell’s goal. Russell dropped the ball back to Graham Zusi, who zipped a cross into the box. Daniel Salloi had a shot waiting for him, near dead-center of the goal and only a few yards out. But Houston goalkeeper Joe Willis got a finger on his attempt which banged off the crossbar.
Aug 31, 2019; Kansas City, KS, USA; Sporting Kansas City forward Johnny Russell (7) is congratulated by team mates after scoring against the Houston Dynamo during the first half at Children’s Mercy Park. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports
A Houston equalizer in the 74th minute was called back after the offside flag was raised.
“We haven’t scored two, three, four, five goals, but we have been able to figure out how to close games out at the end of the game,” SKC head coach Peter Vermes said about his team’s recent form. “We fought to the final whistle, and we haven’t lost ourselves in games, and that’s the big difference.”
“We still have a long road ahead of us,” Vermes continued. “We still have a lot of games to play still, and a lot of points on the table, and we’ve got to keep clawing our way up there.”
A rollercoaster season that included a deep run in the Concacaf Champions League and battling a bevy of injuries sees Sporting Kansas City in ninth in the Western Conference, four points below the playoff line with six games remaining.
“It’s been well-documented, the problems we’ve had this year,” Russell said. “But we know now time’s running out, and when you’re up against tough teams, that’s when people’s true characters come out. I think this team has shown, especially over the last few weeks, we’re not ready to give up without a fight.”