Sporting Kansas City entered Saturday with a laundry list of scenarios that would see the club clinch a berth in the Audi 2021 MLS Cup Playoffs. At the end of the day, the very first was the only one that mattered.
Win at Seattle Sounders FC.
Manager Peter Vermes’ men passed the test with flying colors, earning a resolute 2-1 road win over the Western Conference leaders at Lumen Field to move within three points of first place with a game in hand.
Remi Walter bagged his first MLS goal inside four minutes and red-hot forward Johnny Russell extended his historic scoring streak with a 79th-minute winner as Sporting claimed their third victory in as many visits to Seattle and sealed their 10th playoff appearance in 11 seasons.
“We had to come here and win,” Russell said after the match. “We knew that and we had belief. We’ve come here and done it this season.”
Indeed, Sporting approached the match with one road win over Seattle already in the bag, having ousted the Sounders by a 3-1 scoreline on July 25. By securing another three points on Saturday, Sporting became just the second club in MLS history to win twice at Seattle in the same regular season.
For the two teams that met in a table-topping clash at Lumen Field, advancement to the postseason has become commonplace over the last decade. Dating back to 2011, only Seattle has clinched more playoff berths than Sporting.
MOST MLS CUP PLAYOFF APPEARANCES SINCE 2011
(INCLUDING CLINCHED BERTHS IN 2021)
- 11 | Seattle Sounders FC
- 10 | Sporting Kansas City
- 10 | New York Red Bulls
- 7 | FC Dallas
- 7 | LA Galaxy
- 7 | Real Salt Lake
For Vermes in particular, Saturday was nothing short of historic. In addition to taking sole possession of fourth place in league history with his 171st regular season coaching win, the American soccer legend cemented his 17th MLS Cup Playoff appearance as a player or a coach. No other person has made more trips to the MLS postseason.
MOST MLS CUP PLAYOFF APPEARANCES AS PLAYER OR COACH
- 17 | Peter Vermes | 10 as coach, 7 as player
- 16 | Bruce Arena | 16 as coach
- 16 | Kyle Beckerman | 16 as player
- 14 | Nick Rimando | 14 as player
- 14 | Kevin Hartman | 14 as player
- 14 | Jesse Marsch | 11 as player, 3 as coach
The stakes were decidedly high this weekend—Seattle and Sporting are embroiled in a battle for the No. 1 seed in the West with two weeks left in the regular season—and the spectacle that unfolded at Lumen Field certainly didn’t disappoint.
Walter fired Sporting ahead early, only for the Sounders to grow into the game and equalize in the 58th minute through Nicolas Benezet. With 11 minutes remaining and the contest delicately poised, Sporting orchestrated a stunning 38-pass sequence that was punctuated by Roger Espinoza’s inch-perfect diagonal through ball to Russell, who took a settling touch and tucked low into the corner past Seattle goalkeeper Stefan Frei.
Alas, Russell has pushed his remarkable scoring streak to seven consecutive regular season matches, the longest in club history and the longest in MLS this year. Only three MLS players—Josef Martinez, Carlos Vela and Diego Valeri—have pieced together longer regular season scoring streaks.
LONGEST SCORING STREAKS IN MLS REGULAR SEASON HISTORY
- 15 matches | Josef Martinez | Atlanta United FC | 05/24/19 to 09/18/19
- 11 matches | Carlos Vela | Los Angeles FC | 08/11/19 to 03/08/20
- 9 matches | Josef Martinez | Atlanta United FC | 06/30/18 to 08/24/18
- 9 matches | Diego Valeri | Portland Timbers | 07/29/17 to 09/24/17
- 7 matches | Johnny Russell | Sporting Kansas City | 09/11/21 to 10/23/21
- 7 matches | Carlos Ruiz | FC Dallas | 05/06/06 to 06/11/06
- 7 matches | Wolde Harris | Colorado Rapids | 07/19/00 to 08/26/00
- 7 matches | Raul Diaz Arce | Colorado Rapids | 04/12/97 to 07/04/97
The statistical significance around Russell’s goal doesn’t stop there. Consider the following:
- With 37 goals in his regular season career, Russell is now tied with former Colorado Rapids ace John Spencer for most goals by a Scottish player in league history.
- Russell now has six goals in seven career appearances against Seattle—his most versus any MLS opponent.
- Russell has become the second player to score in three matches against Seattle in the same regular season, matching the feat set by Fanendo Adi of the Portland Timbers in 2016.
Sporting’s go-ahead goal saw Russell etch his name into the record books, but it will be best remembered for its methodical-then-devastating buildup. Veteran Roger Espinoza, making his 250th regular season start in a Sporting uniform, played an instrumental role in the scoring play by unleashing a delightfully incisive pass that set Russell free down the right side.
Espinoza’s sublime delivery stood as the 11th game-winning assist of his regular season career, the fifth most in Kansas City history.
MOST GAME-WINNING ASSISTS IN SPORTING KC HISTORY
(MLS REGULAR SEASON)
- 28 | Graham Zusi | 316 appearances
- 23 | Preki | 23 appearances
- 16 | Chris Klein | 200 appearances
- 13 | Benny Feilhaber | 167 appearances
- 11 | Roger Espinoza | 283 appearances
“Being able to get three points and secure a playoff spot is a huge objective of ours,” Vermes said afterward. “We got it and I’m proud of the guys. They deserved it because they worked hard. They weathered different situations within the game that weren’t always (comfortable) and they did a really good job with it.”
Weathering difficult situations over the course of a game is especially crucial against a high-achieving team like Seattle. Make no mistake, the Sounders have been the class of MLS over the last five seasons, winning two league titles and four Western Conference trophies. But the thorn in Seattle’s side over the last half-decade has unquestionably been the team that visited Lumen Field on Saturday.
Since 2015, Sporting’s 8-3-3 regular season record against the Sounders is far and away the best in MLS.
BEST REGULAR SEASON RECORDS VS. SEATTLE SINCE 2015
(MINIMUM SIX MEETINGS)
- Sporting Kansas City | 8-3-3 record | 0.679 win %
- Los Angeles FC | 4-3-2 record | 0.556 win %
- Portland Timbers | 9-9-3 record | 0.500 win %
- Real Salt Lake | 7-7-1 record | 0.500 win %
- Chicago Fire FC | 3-3-1 record | 0.500 win %
Four of Sporting’s eight wins over Seattle during that time frame have come on the road, which brings us to our next point of emphasis: the penchant that Kansas City has for picking up road wins.
This year, for instance, Sporting’s eight away victories have tied a regular season club record during the non-shootout era. Expand the sample size to cover the last 10 seasons, and Sporting’s 57 away wins since 2012 are the most in MLS.
SPORTING KC: MOST AWAY WINS IN AN MLS REGULAR SEASON
- 9 wins | 1997 | 9-7-0 record (shootout era)
- 8 wins | 2012 | 8-4-5 record
- 8 wins | 2013 | 8-5-4 record
- 8 wins | 2014 | 8-8-1 record
- 8 wins | 2021 | 8-5-2 record
MOST MLS REGULAR SEASON ROAD WINS SINCE 2012
- 57 wins | Sporting Kansas City | 57-65-37 record
- 53 wins | Seattle Sounders FC | 53-66-41 record
- 49 wins | New York Red Bulls | 49-70-42 record
- 43 wins | LA Galaxy | 43-71-44 record
- 42 wins | New England Revolution | 42-83-37 record
Boasting a perfect 7-0-0 record in matches immediately following losses this season, Sporting (16-7-7, 55 points) will return to world-class Children's Mercy Park on Wednesday to host longtime rival and fifth-place LA Galaxy (13-11-7, 46 points). The contest will kick off at 7:55 p.m. CT with national coverage beginning at 7:30 p.m. CT on FS1 and FOX Deportes. Tickets for the high-stakes matchup are available at SeatGeek.com.
“A massive win but it means nothing if we don’t continue into Wednesday with three points there,” Russell said. “It’s a big win but it’s just another three points and a step to the ultimate goal and that’s finishing at the top of the conference.”
The final fortnight of the regular season is shaping up to entertain wildly. Three clubs—Sporting, Seattle and Colorado—have a realistic shot at finishing atop the West. Their remaining fixture lists are below.
1. Seattle Sounders FC (58 points, 31 matches played)
- Tuesday, Oct. 26 | at LAFC | 9:30 p.m. CT, ESPN
- Monday, Nov. 1 | vs. LA Galaxy | 9 p.m. CT, ESPN Plus
- Sunday, Nov. 7 | at Vancouver | 5 p.m. CT, ESPN Plus
2. Sporting KC (55 points, 30 matches played)
- Wednesday, Oct. 27 | vs. LA Galaxy | 7:30 p.m. CT, FS1
- Sunday, Oct. 31 | at Minnesota United FC | 12 p.m. CT, ESPN
- Wednesday, Nov. 3 | at Austin FC | 8 p.m. CT, Bally Sports KC
- Sunday, Nov. 7 | vs. Real Salt Lake | 5 p.m. CT, Bally Sports KC
3. Colorado Rapids (55 points, 31 matches played)
- Wednesday, Oct. 27 | at New England Revolution | 6 p.m. CT, ESPN Plus
- Sunday, Oct. 31 | at Houston Dynamo FC | 2 p.m. CT, ESPN Plus
- Sunday, Nov. 7 | vs. LAFC | 5 p.m. CT, ESPN Plus