Russell extends scoring streak, earns KC home playoff match

Forward Johnny Russell pushed past defender Niko Hamalainen to score his first goal in a 2-0 win over the Los Angeles Galaxy on Wednesday evening. (Photo copyright 2021 by Brian Turrel)

by Brian Turrel

The rain didn’t stop Wednesday evening and neither did Sporting Kansas City captain Johnny Russell, who scored both goals against the Los Angeles Galaxy in a 2-0 win. The goals extended Russell’s club record scoring streak to 8 consecutive matches.

Reserve goalkeeper John Pulskamp, pressed into service due to Tim Melia’s one-game suspension, kept the visitors off the board with two saves on well-hit Galaxy shots.

Sporting just missed an opportunity for an early lead in the 2nd minute. A corner kick from Russell fell to Ilie Sanchez, but his shot banged off the goalpost.

Kansas City had another flurry of shots near the quarter-hour mark, along with four consecutive corner kicks, but the Galaxy defense held fast.

Pulskamp earned his first save of the match when he got a leg on a shot from Dejan Joveljic in the 30th minute.

Five minutes before the break, Russell put Kansas City on the scoreboard. Gadi Kinda passed the ball to the Scottish forward in the right corner. Russell slipped the ball past defender Niko Hamalainen to earn a clean shot that he rocketed between the goalkeeper and the near post.

At the defensive end, Pulskamp picked up his second save in the 60th minute, smothering a shot at close range, and defender Luis Martins made a sliding block to deny the Galaxy an equalizing goal in the 73rd minute.

In the 83rd minute, Russell scored again off a pass from Kinda. From the right side, he curled the ball into the upper left corner of the net to double the lead.

The win puts Kansas City back atop the MLS Western Conference standings, and it assures them of at least one home game in the MLS Cup playoffs that start Nov. 20.

Kansas City has two games on the road at Minnesota (Oct. 31) and Austin (Nov. 3) before returning home to face Real Salt Lake in the regular season finale on Nov. 7.

Johnny Russell made a sliding tackle to break up a run by LA defender Derrick Williams. (Photo copyright 2021 by Brian Turrel)
LA defender Sega Coulibaly leaped to clear a ball in front of the LA goal. (Photo copyright 2021 by Brian Turrel)
Johnny Russell and Graham Zusi clowned around with a professional wrestling move in honor of suspended teammate Tim Melia. (Photo copyright 2021 by Brian Turrel)
Midfielder Roger Espinoza tangled with LA defender Julian Araujo along the left sideline. (Photo copyright 2021 by Brian Turrel)
LA midfielder Rayan Raveloson tracked Ilie Sanchez, playing as a midfielder in the match. (Photo copyright 2021 by Brian Turrel)
Forward Khiry Shelton went to the ground on a run up the middle. (Photo copyright 2021 by Brian Turrel)
Midfielder Remi Walter’s shot on the LA goal was blocked. (Photo copyright 2021 by Brian Turrel)
LA defender Derrick Williams slid in to block forward Johnny Russell. (Photo copyright 2021 by Brian Turrel)
Johnny Russell scored his second goal of the match in the 82nd minute. (Photo copyright 2021 by Brian Turrel)

LA Galaxy to visit Sporting KC on Wednesday

Major playoff implications are on the line Wednesday as second-place Sporting Kansas City (16-7-7, 55 points) plays host to fifth-place LA Galaxy (13-11-7, 46 points) in a 7:55 p.m. kickoff at Children’s Mercy Park in Kansas City, Kansas.

Tickets are available at SeatGeek.com. The Western Conference clash will air nationally on FS1 and FOX Deportes with coverage starting at 7:30 p.m. Fans can also stream the action live on the FOX Sports app or on FOXSports.com. There will be live updates throughout the contest from @SKCMatchday on Twitter.

Looking to finish atop the West for the third time in four seasons, Sporting Kansas City picked up three major points from first place Seattle Sounders on Saturday. The attention now turns to the LA Galaxy in a midweek match between MLS originals.

Having clinched a playoff berth, Sporting KC is one of seven teams in the West who following Decision Day on Nov. 7 will advance to the 2021 MLS Cup Playoffs.

The top-seeded club receives a bye to the conference semifinals. Sporting can clinch a home playoff match with a result against the Galaxy or a Portland draw or loss to San Jose on Wednesday evening. Sporting’s 10 postseason appearances over the 11 years are second-most among Western Conference teams behind only the Sounders, who have reached the playoffs every year since joining MLS in 2009.

Saturday will mark the second meeting between Sporting and the Galaxy this year. Sporting took all three points in the previous meeting on July 4 in a 2-0 victory.

Forwards Johnny Russell and Khiry Shelton netted late goals while Tim Melia saved seven shots for the clean sheet. At home, Sporting has lost just one of 12 regular season games against the Galaxy dating back to 2008.

Manager Peter Vermes has had the squad playing high-caliber soccer all season long. With three wins in their last four matches, Sporting will look to knock Seattle out of the top spot in the West. Just three points back and with a game in hand, Sporting has a chance to make a run at the Western Conference No. 1 seed.

With goals in his last seven appearances, Russell now holds the longest scoring streak in MLS this season. He is one of six MLS players with 12 goals and seven assists this year alongside Daniel Salloi, whose 24 combined goals (16) and assists (eight) tie the league lead with Gustavo Bou of New England. Russell and Salloi have paced a Sporting attack that leads the West with 54 goals scored and 1.8 goals per match.

Holding down the midfield on Saturday, Sporting’s Remi Walter received an MLS Team of the Week selection as a starter. His first career MLS goal helped lift Sporting past the Sounders, as he provided excellent support in the midfield.

First-year head coach Greg Vanney has the Galaxy in form. After a poor September in which the Galaxy only collected two points, the team has earned results in four straight games. The Galaxy rank in the top 10 in MLS in goals scored with 46.

Led by Mexican international Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez (14 goals, three assists), midfielder Sacha Kljestan (five goals, four assists), U.S. MNT player Sebastian Lletget (two goals, four assists), defender Julian Araujo (five assists) and goalkeeper Jonathan Bond, the Galaxy find themselves in the thick of a playoff battle.

Fifth place is above the playoff line but would force the Galaxy into a first-round road game. LA is tied on points with fourth-place Portland and will look to improve its place in the standings at midweek.

Both teams come into the match with injury concerns. On the Galaxy side, Jorge Villafana is listed as questionable while Nick DePuy will miss this match due to caution accumulation. Sporting will not have striker Alan Pulido (knee) and defender Jaylin Lindsey (hamstring). Salloi and midfielder Jose Mauri are questionable both with ankle ailments.

Sporting has been excellent at home, coming into its penultimate regular season home match with an 8-2-5 record. With just two weeks left in the regular season and both teams jockeying for higher seeds in the playoffs, everything is to play for Wednesday night.

  • Story from Sporting KC

Win over Seattle gives Sporting KC playoff berth

Sporting Kansas City (16-7-7, 55 points) punched its ticket to the 2021 MLS Cup Playoffs in resounding fashion, earning a 2-1 road win over Western Conference leaders Seattle Sounders FC (17-7-7, 58 points) on Saturday afternoon at Lumen Field in Seattle.

Remi Walter hammered home his first MLS goal in the fourth minute and captain Johnny Russell extended his club-record scoring streak to seven matches with a 79th-minute winner as second-place Sporting climbed within three points of Seattle at the top of the West and secured its 10th playoff appearance in 11 seasons.

Saturday’s result saw Sporting manager Peter Vermes take sole possession of fourth place in MLS history with 171 regular season coaching wins and set a league record by clinching his 17th appearance in the MLS Cup Playoffs as a player or a coach.

Sporting also became just the second club in MLS history to win at Seattle twice in the same regular season and equaled a single-season club record with its eighth away victory of the 2021 campaign.

Boasting a perfect 7-0-0 record in matches immediately following losses this season, Sporting will return to Children’s Mercy Park on Wednesday to host longtime rival LA Galaxy.

The contest will kick off at 7:50 p.m. Wednesday with national coverage beginning at 7:30 p.m. on FS1 and FOX Deportes. Tickets for the match are available at SeatGeek.com.

Vermes made two injury-induced changes to the Sporting lineup from a 2-1 loss at Vancouver Whitecaps FC last Sunday. Jose Mauri and MLS MVP candidate Daniel Salloi missed with ankle problems, prompting the return of center back Nicolas Isimat-Mirin — who landed his first start since Aug. 7 — and veteran midfielder Roger Espinoza, who logged his 250th regular season start in a Sporting uniform.

Ilie Sanchez moved from central defense into his long-held holding midfield spot and Gadi Kinda was deployed as a false nine up top.

Walter landed an absolute haymaker inside four minutes to give the upstart visitors a 1-0 lead. Khiry Shelton and Russell combined neatly on the right edge of the box before the latter swung a low delivery across the face of the six-yard area.

Seattle goalkeeper Stefan Frei punched clear only as far as Kinda, whose rebound effort near the penalty spot was blocked through traffic. Luis Martins converged on the ball and crucially won possession by poking the ball to Walter, who lashed a left-footed strike into the top left corner to open his MLS scoring account.

Brimming with confidence, Sporting could have doubled its advantage after seven minutes. Russell was once again a danger man, flicking a pass into the path of Kinda. He swiftly beat a defender at the top of the box and uncorked a right-footed blast that screamed narrowly high.

The Sounders were kept at bay in the opening stages, although Sporting goalkeeper Tim Melia was called to action in the 15th minute when he corralled Nicolas Benezet’s well-struck shot. The 35-year-old veteran picked up another first-half save near halftime, thwarting U.S. international Cristian Roldan.

Near the half-hour interval, Russell asked further questions of the Seattle backline by chipping in a cross from the right endline. Espinoza was there to pull the trigger, but his effort was deflected behind for a corner kick.

On Russell’s ensuing delivery, the ball skipped through a swarm of bodies and was nearly prodded home by Sounders defender Shane O’Neill, whose blushes were saved as his redirect carried inches over the bar.

Outplayed in the first half, Seattle responded in the early moments of the second period with a deluge of attacking pressure.

Melia and Alex Roldan were shown yellow cards after a hasty altercation in which Cristian Roldan blundered into Melia amid a goalmouth scramble.

Shortly thereafter, Sporting center back Andreu Fontas blocked a side volley attempt from former Kansas City midfielder Jimmy Medranda, who was deployed as a left wing back on Saturday.

The Sounders restored parity in the 58th minute as Sporting came undone on a corner kick. Cristian Roldan glanced Joao Paulo’s service to the back post where Benezet nodded into a gaping net for his third goal of the campaign.

Cristian Roldan almost went from provider to goal scorer in the 64th minute, planting a powerful header on target, but Melia produced a phenomenal reflex save at point-blank range and Isimat-Mirin ushered clear upfield to extinguish the danger. Sporting’s gloveman racked up another stop on Roldan 10 minutes later, dropping low to his right to smother a seething turf-trimmer.

Russell had bagged seven goals in his previous six games, and fired Sporting back in front with 11 minutes remaining. In a move that punctuated a dazzling 38-pass sequence, Espinoza charged into the attacking third and played an inch-perfect diagonal through ball to Russell. The Scottish winger took a touch on the right side of the box and sent a side-footed effort past Frei for his 12th goal of 2021, all of which have come since the start of July.

Sporting defended bravely to the very end as Seattle piled numbers forward in search of a late lever. The Sounders went close to leveling terms in the 93rd minute, but Cristian Roldan’s booming strike rattled the crossbar and referee Ismail Elfath blew the full-time whistle seconds later.

  • Story from Sporting KC