Mar 17, 2018; Kansas City, KS, USA; San Jose Earthquakes goalkeeper Andrew Tarbell (28) warms up before a match against Sporting Kansas City at Children's Mercy Park. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports
For the second week in a row, Sporting Kansas City was on fire offensively. It took down San Jose 3-2 on Saturday, scoring their fifth, sixth and seventh goals of the year already. Here’s what we learned from this weekend:
Graham Zusi’s still got it
Zusi went all of the 2017 season without a score. But he attacked that drought with a vengeance Saturday, ripping a beauty of a shot into the left corner for Sporting’s second goal of the night. It was classic Zusi, his feet seemingly floating on the air above the grass, coaxing the ball along until he found a hole.
A “laser” it was, quipped Sporting manager Peter Vermes, who went on to wax poetic about a defender scoring goals.
“He’s not meant to score,” he said, smiling. “He plays right back! If he scores it’s a huge benefit. Today was a bonus.”
Offense quick to jell
Perhaps an unexpected revelation, given the questions about Sporting’s offense coming into the season, but Sporting Kansas City has been lights-out in the attacking third this year. The team has already accumulated seven goals in three matches, a mark it took them eight matches to reach last year.
With midfielder Felipe Gutierrez slithering around the middle, Johnny Russell making darting runs to create space and even Zusi getting in on the fun this weekend, the offense is hitting on all cylinders.
“I think our movement up front and the ability to find the correct pass, if you will, is really good,” Vermes said. “And it’s only going to get better over time.”
Johnny Russell is crucial
When Johnny Russell was added to the Sporting Kansas City roster during preseason, no one knew quite what to expect. He had had success in England but left to pursue a career in Major League Soccer. And in the first match of the season, Sporting was shut out 2-0 by New York – the offensive questions were getting louder.
But Russell has been integral so far this season, scoring last week, and playing set-up this week. Both Zusi and Vermes mentioned Russell as a cog in the offense that is hitting its form early this season. It was Russell’s run in the box (and subsequent fall) that led to Sporting’s first-half penalty kick. And it was Russell that Zusi credited with making a run that set up his subsequent goal.
As Sporting’s offense continues to gel – it will only get better over time, Vermes says – Russell will play a huge role in that.