With 16 goals and seven assists to his name, Sporting Kansas City forward Daniel Salloi is a legitimate MLS MVP frontrunner.
But he’s not even the hottest attacking player on his own team.
After striking twice in a wild 4-2 home win over Houston Dynamo FC on Sunday, Russell became one of only five MLS players—alongside Salloi—to hit 10 goals and seven assists this season. The achievement is even more impressive considering the fact that three injury-riddled months into the 2021 campaign, Russell had zero goals and three assists to show from 11 appearances.
The 31-year-old Scottish winger has taken off since the turn of July, scoring 10 times and adding four assists over his last 14 games.
“It was never a case of getting my head down,” Russell said of his upward trajectory after Sunday’s match. “I’ve said plenty of times that when the first one came, there would be more. I’ve shown that throughout my career, the (goals) usually come in bunches. I’m in good form right now."
If Russell keeps rolling the way he has over the last several weeks, Sporting will like their chances of achieving a whole lot in the Audi 2021 MLS Cup Playoffs. Since Aug. 28 specifically, no MLS player has more goals (seven) or combined goals and assists (nine) than Russell.
With his brace against Houston on Sunday, Russell made club history by joining Preki as the only Kansas City players with goals in five consecutive regular season appearances.
LONGEST REGULAR SEASON GOAL SCORING STREAKS
(SPORTING KC, ALL-TIME)
- 5 matches | Johnny Russell | 09/11/21 to 10/03/21
- 5 matches | Preki | 06/01/96 to 06/20/96
- 4 matches | Felipe Gutierrez | 03/10/18 to 03/31/18
- 4 matches | Dom Dwyer | 09/09/16 to 10/01/16
- 4 matches | Dom Dwyer | 08/29/14 to 09/26/14
- 4 matches | Dom Dwyer | 05/10/14 to 05/23/14
- 4 matches | Eddie Johnson | 05/26/07 to 07/22/07
“Everyone knows how much of a legend Preki is at this club,” Russell said. “To have your name up there with him in any stat is obviously something that you need to be proud of, especially the goals and assists that he had here. It’s a nice little bit of history. The main thing is continuing to help the team win games. As long as I’m doing that, I’m happy.”
Similarly, Russell has become one of four Sporting players with goals in five straight regular season home games alongside Preki, Scott Sealy and current club television commentator Jacob Peterson.
SPORTING KC: LONGEST HOME SCORING STREAKS
(MLS REGULAR SEASON, ALL-TIME)
- 7 matches | Preki | 05/02/1996 to 07/06/1996
- 5 matches | Johnny Russell | 08/28/2021 to 10/03/2021
- 5 matches | Jacob Peterson | 07/24/2016 to 09/09/2016
- 5 matches | Scott Sealy | 08/12/2006 to 09/30/2006
- 4 matches | Daniel Salloi | 06/12/2021 to 07/21/2021
- 4 matches | Preki | 07/20/1996 to 08/15/1996
Since arriving in Kansas City from English side Derby County FC in early 2018, Russell has been one of the most consistent attacking playmakers in MLS. He and LAFC standout Carlos Vela are the only players with at least 30 goals and 30 assists over the last four MLS regular seasons.
But Russell’s invaluable contribution to Sporting doesn’t stop with goals and assists. The fan-favorite forward has an infectious personality, an authentic sense of humor and a strong locker room presence. Each of these factors contributed to Manager Peter Vermes giving Russell the captain’s armband ahead of the 2021 campaign.
“You see what Johnny does on the field, but he’s an incredible leader with the group,” Vermes said on Sunday. “He has a great personality. He’s one of those guys that in the big moments, he doesn’t break. He bends, but he always comes back. He’s got more than just what you see him do on the field. He’s got a big presence with us and we’re lucky to have him on our team and in our club.”
Late last week—shortly after Sporting’s captain signed a new contract through 2023 with an option for 2024—Vermes shed further light on how Russell caught his eye back in 2018, and how he has been as good as advertised since then.
“We loved that he was just so dangerous with his ability to single-handily have an impact and change the game,” Vermes said. “He could eliminate defenders off the dribble. Everybody thinks there’s a lot of guys who can do it, but it’s a skill, it’s an art. Those two things were eye-catching.”
He continued: “What I didn’t know (back then) was how great of a personality he had and the leadership qualities that I’m not sure he even knew he had."
Four years later, Russell is a bona fide MLS star with more goals at Sporting than at any other club during his 15-year professional journey. The next step, of course, is painting the wall in the northwest corner of Children’s Mercy Park.
“It’s all about contributing towards the team and what we’re trying to achieve,” Russell said. “At the end of the day, that’s my job and that’s what I’m here to do. Hopefully I can continue to do that in the last few games heading towards the playoffs.”
Occupying second place in the Western Conference—two points behind leaders Seattle Sounders FC—Sporting can clinch a berth in the Audi 2021 MLS Cup Playoffs with a win in their next match at Vancouver Whitecaps FC on Sunday, Oct. 17. Kickoff is slated for 9 p.m. CT with live coverage on Bally Sports Kansas City.