More than 90 minutes of non-stop, end-to-end entertainment.
That is precisely what Sporting Kansas City fans were treated to on Sunday afternoon when Manager Peter Vermes’ men prevailed in a breathless 4-2 thriller against rivals Houston Dynamo FC at Children’s Mercy Park.
Red-hot captain Johnny Russell struck on both sides of halftime, continuing his irresistible run of attacking form, while fellow winger Daniel Salloi strengthened his MLS MVP bid with a goal and an assist. Midfielder Gadi Kinda also notched one and set up another as Sporting kept within two points of Western Conference leaders Seattle Sounders FC and all but secured a berth in the Audi 2021 MLS Cup Playoffs.
Indeed, with 52 points from 28 matches and with a 99.9% chance of reaching the postseason according to Sports Club Stats, Sporting is on the doorstep of extending the 2021 campaign into late November. The next hurdle, of course, will be battling for the top seed in the West and homefield advantage until MLS Cup.
That battle will wage onward from Oct. 17—when Sporting visits Vancouver Whitecaps FC in their next match—until the regular season concludes with Decision Day on Nov. 7.
But before we cast anticipatory eyes on what lies ahead, we will use this edition of Beyond the Box Score presented by Compass Minerals to recognize and celebrate the historic accomplishments of Russell, Salloi and a team that appears capable of hoisting the MLS Cup on Dec. 11.
We begin with the man who opened the scoring on Sunday. Just as beaming sunshine and temperatures in the low 70s provided the perfect setting for soccer at Children’s Mercy Park, Russell remained a glowing fixture on the field with a magisterial individual performance. The Scottish forward won and converted a penalty kick in the 16th minute and added an insurance goal with 90 minutes on the clock to seal the victory.
In doing so, Russell became only the second player in club history to score in five consecutive regular season matches. The first player to accomplish the rare feat was Sporting Legend Preki during the team’s inaugural 1996 campaign.
Russell has scored in five straight regular season appearances overall in addition to finding the back of the net in each of his last five games at Children’s Mercy Park. Only three other Kansas City players—Preki, Scott Sealy and current Bally Sports Kansas City commentator Jacob Peterson—have scored in five successive regular season home matches.
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
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
Russell has 10 goals and seven assists during a 2021 season that actually began slowly for the 31-year-old. Sporting’s captain had zero goals and three assists from April to June but has 10 goals and four assists since the turn of July.
Perhaps more impressively, Russell’s seven goals and nine total goal contributions (including two assists) since Aug. 28 are the most in Major League Soccer. One could fairly argue, therefore, that Russell has been the league’s best player over the last five weeks.
Russell is one of five MLS players with at least 10 goals and seven assists this season. Another Sporting player in that elite group? That would be Salloi, whose league MVP credentials are becoming harder and harder to ignore.
Salloi slotted home Sporting’s second goal of the day in the 26th minute before assisting Kinda’s strike near the hour mark. His 23 total goal contributions this year—consisting of 16 goals and seven assists—are the most in MLS and the fifth-most in club history. Only Preki (1996, 1997, 2003) and Benny Feilhaber (25) have recorded more goals and assists in a single regular season while playing for Sporting.
MOST GOAL CONTRIBUTIONS IN AN MLS REGULAR SEASON
(SPORTING KC, ALL-TIME)
- 31 | Preki | 1996 | 18 goals, 13 assists
- 29 | Preki | 2003 | 12 goals, 17 assists
- 29 | Preki | 1997 | 12 goals, 17 assists
- 25 | Benny Feilhaber | 2015 | 10 goals, 15 assists
- 23 | Daniel Salloi | 2021 | 16 goals, 7 assists
- 23 | Dom Dwyer | 2014 | 22 goals, 1 assist
- 23 | Preki | 1998 | 10 goals, 13 assists
Salloi’s remarkable goal production is best illustrated by the fact that his 16 non-penalty kick strikes are three more than any other MLS player this year.
Those 16 non-PK goals are also tied for the most in a season in Kansas City history—equaling Dom Dwyer’s hauls in 2014 and 2016—and tied for the most all-time by an MLS Homegrown Player. Gyasi Zardes, an LA Galaxy homegrown product, equaled that total during the 2014 and 2018 seasons.
MOST NON-PENALTY GOALS IN MLS THIS SEASON
- 16 goals | Daniel Salloi | Sporting Kansas City
- 13 goals | Adam Buksa | New England Revolution
- 13 goals | Damir Kreilach | Real Salt Lake
- 13 goals | Ricardo Pepi | FC Dallas
- 13 goals | Raul Ruidiaz | Seattle Sounders FC
MOST NON-PENALTY GOALS IN AN MLS REGULAR SEASON
(SPORTING KC, ALL-TIME)
- 16 goals | Daniel Salloi | 2021
- 16 goals | Dom Dwyer | 2016
- 16 goals | Dom Dwyer | 2014
- 14 goals | Eddie Johnson | 2007
- 13 goals | Digital Takawira | 1996
With Russell and Salloi both scoring freely, the duo have climbed into the top 10 on Sporting’s all-time regular season goals chart. Russell is seventh on the list, three shy of matching Kei Kamara for sixth, while Salloi is tied for eighth alongside Feilhaber and Mo Johnston.
SPORTING KC ALL-TIME GOAL SCORING LEADERS
(MLS REGULAR SEASON)
- 71 goals | Preki | 1996-2000, 2002-2005
- 57 goals | Dom Dwyer | 2012-2017
- 43 goals | Davy Arnaud | 2002-2011
- 43 goals | Josh Wolff | 2003-2006, 2008-2010
- 39 goals | Chris Klein | 1999-2005
- 38 goals | Kei Kamara | 2010-2013
- 35 goals | Johnny Russell | 2018-present
- 31 goals | Daniel Salloi | 2016-present
- 31 goals | Benny Feilhaber | 2013-2017, 2019
- 31 goals | Mo Johnston | 1996-2001
Sunday’s victory was absorbing for Sporting fans and neutrals alike, but it didn’t come without a few scares. Fafa Picault and Darwin Quintero scored second-half goals for the Dynamo, who could have equalized in the late stages when Tim Melia denied Maxi Urruti on the breakaway to keep the score at 3-2.
Melia improved his 2021 record to 13-4-6 on Sunday, with his .696 winning percentage currently the best by a Sporting goalkeeper in a regular season since the dawn of the non-shootout era in 2000. The club legend appears three different times in the list below, having posted strong winning percentages in three of the last four seasons.
SPORTING KC: BEST GOALKEEPER WINNING PERCENTAGES IN AN MLS SEASON
(MINIMUM FIVE WINS IN NON-SHOOTOUT ERA)
- 0.696 | Tim Melia | 2021 | 13-4-6 record
- 0.667 | Bo Oshoniyi | 2004 | 5-2-2 record
- 0.662 | Jimmy Nielsen | 2012 | 18-7-9 record
- 0.658 | Tim Melia | 2020 | 11-5-3 record
- 0.647 | Tim Melia | 2018 | 18-8-8 record
A few minutes after Melia made a huge save to thwart Urruti, Russell put the game to bed with a late tally to push the scoreline to 4-2. In doing so, he helped Sporting collect its 11th multi-goal win of the campaign. No other club has more than seven wins by multiple goals in 2021.
MOST MULTI-GOAL WINS IN MLS THIS SEASON
- 11 wins | Sporting Kansas City | 5 home, 6 away
- 7 wins | Nashville SC | 5 home, 2 away
- 7 wins | D.C. United | 5 home, 2 away
- 7 wins | Colorado Rapids | 5 home, 2 away
- 7 wins | Seattle Sounders FC | 4 home, 3 away
- 6 wins | New York City FC | 4 home, 2 away
Veteran defender Graham Zusi notched an assist on Russell’s 90th-minute solo goal and now has 100 combined goals and assists during his heralded regular season career. With 29 goals and 71 assists in a Sporting uniform, Zusi has become only the 12th active MLS player with 100 combined goals and assists in the regular season.
Zusi is the longest-tenured MLS player with one club in MLS history, having begun his professional career in Kansas City in 2009. Interestingly enough, that was the same year that Vermes began what is now the longest-tenured head coaching stint with a single club in league history.
And like Zusi, Vermes hit a notable milestone in Sunday’s triumph. The 4-2 result gave the New Jersey native his 170th regular season coaching win at Sporting, tied with Dominic Kinnear for the fourth most on the league’s all-time charts.
WINNINGEST COACHES IN MLS REGULAR SEASON HISTORY
- 240 wins | Sigi Schmid | 1999-2004, 2006-2018
- 238 wins | Bruce Arena | 1996-1998, 2006-2016, 2019-present
- 179 wins | Bob Bradley | 1998-2006, 2018-present
- 170 wins | Peter Vermes | 2009-present
- 170 wins | Dominic Kinnear | 2004-2018, 2020
With three more points in the bag, Sporting will recuperate over the next several days before hitting the stretch run of the 2021 regular season. Sporting’s first of six remaining fixtures will take place on Oct. 17 when the team visits Vancouver Whitecaps FC for a 9 p.m. CT kickoff at BC Place.