As long as Sporting Kansas City captain Johnny Russell continues to dominate on the field, so too will he continue to control the narrative in Beyond the Box Score presented by Compass Minerals.
The red-hot Scottish forward bagged two impressive goals in a scintillating performance on Wednesday night as Sporting Kansas City (17-7-7, 58 points) defeated the LA Galaxy 2-0 to take first place in the Western Conference and seal a home match in the Audi 2021 MLS Cup Playoffs next month.
Thanks in part to Russell’s heroics—he scored late in both halves on a pair of Gadi Kinda assists—Sporting can finish no lower than third in the West and can secure a berth in the 2022 Concacaf Champions League with a victory in one of their three remaining regular season fixtures.
Russell’s sixth career multi-goal match in a Sporting uniform saw the 31-year-old score for the eighth straight game, the fifth-longest streak in MLS regular season history. Only Josef Martinez, Carlos Vela and Diego Valeri have scored in more consecutive MLS matches.
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
- 8 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
On a related note, each of the last six matches at Children’s Mercy Park have seen Russell find the back of the net. That six-game home scoring streak dates back to Aug. 28 and ranks as the second-longest in club history, one behind Preki’s seven during the inaugural 1996 MLS campaign.
SPORTING KC: LONGEST HOME SCORING STREAKS
(MLS REGULAR SEASON, ALL-TIME)
- 7 matches | Preki | 05/02/96 to 07/06/96
- 6 matches | Johnny Russell | 08/28/21 to 10/27/21
- 5 matches | Scott Sealy | 08/12/06 to 09/30/06
- 5 matches | Jacob Peterson | 07/24/16 to 09/09/16
- 4 matches | Preki | 07/20/96 to 08/15/96
- 4 matches | Daniel Salloi | 06/12/21 to 07/21/21
“Johnny was a monster tonight,” Sporting Manager Peter Vermes said after the match. “He has that ‘it’ factor. He shows up in the big moments and he’s mentally tough. He gives everything he has all the time (and) he’s doing everything that he can to win. He just has a great mentality. It’s infectious for the rest of the guys on the team and it’s one of the big reasons why he’s the captain.”
In the grand scope of Sporting’s 26-year history, one could argue that Russell is in the finest attacking form of any player to wear the Kansas City uniform. With a double on Wednesday, he became the first Sporting player to bag 10 regular season goals in an eight-game span. That torrid spell began on Sept. 11, the same night he began his uninterrupted run of eight games with goals.
SPORTING KC PLAYERS WITH 10 GOALS IN A 10-MATCH SPAN
(MLS REGULAR SEASON, ALL-TIME)
- 8 matches | Johnny Russell | 09/11/21 to 10/27/21
- 9 matches | Eddie Johnson | 04/25/07 to 07/22/07
- 10 matches | Dom Dwyer | 03/22/14 to 05/23/14
- 10 matches | Dom Dwyer | 05/10/14 to 07/12/14
“Everything I’m hitting right now seems to be going in,” Russell said postgame when asked if he had ever been in better form earlier in his career. “From (a scoring) perspective, probably not. But my confidence has never changed in my career. I’m just getting in good positions. My team is finding me with great passes. I’m managing to get my shots away and they’re going in.”
As irresistible as Russell has been over the last two months, his recent displays hardly qualify as being a flash in the pan. Rather, the dynamic winger has consistently performed among the best attacking players in MLS. Since joining the league in 2018, his 69 combined goals and assists in the regular season trail only Carlos Vela of LAFC and Josef Martinez of Atlanta United FC. Russell has also overtaken John Spencer as the top-scoring Scottish player in league history.
MOST COMBINED GOALS AND ASSISTS SINCE 2018
(MLS REGULAR SEASON)
- 91 | Carlos Vela | 57 goals, 34 assists
- 80 | Josef Martinez | 69 goals, 11 assists
- 69 | Johnny Russell | 39 goals, 30 assists
- 69 | Zlatan Ibrahimovic | 52 goals, 17 assists
- 69 | Diego Rossi | 48 goals, 21 assists
Wednesday’s salvo also lifted Russell into a tie for fifth place on Sporting’s all-time chart for regular season goals. He has moved level with longtime midfielder and current LA Galaxy president Chris Klein, who was in attendance at Children’s Mercy Park to see his team fall victim to Russell and Co.
MOST REGULAR SEASON GOALS IN SPORTING KC HISTORY
- 71 goals | Preki | 218 appearances | 1996-2000, 2002-2005
- 57 goals | Dom Dwyer | 128 appearances | 2012-2017
- 43 goals | Davy Arnaud | 240 appearances | 2002-2011
- 43 goals | Josh Wolff | 144 appearances | 2003-2006, 2008-2010
- 39 goals | Johnny Russell | 107 appearances | 2018-present
- 39 goals | Chris Klein | 200 appearances | 1998-2005
On the opposite side of the pitch as Russell, 20-year-old goalkeeper John Pulskamp made the most of a major opportunity.
With veteran Tim Melia serving a one-game suspension, Pulskamp stepped between the posts for his sixth first-team appearance of 2021 and made two smart saves en route to his first career MLS shutout. In doing so, Pulskamp became the youngest Kansas City keeper to record an MLS clean sheet.
YOUNGEST SPORTING KC GOALKEEPERS TO RECORD A SHUTOUT
(MLS REGULAR SEASON, ALL-TIME)
- John Pulskamp | 20 years, 191 days | W 2-0 vs. LA on 10/27/21
- Garth Lagerwey | 23 years, 200 days | W 1-0 at DAL on 06/29/96
- Will Hesmer | 24 years, 199 days | W 1-0 at CLB on 06/10/06
- Chris Snitko | 25 years, 211 days | W 2-0 vs MIA on 08/23/98
- Mike Ammann | 26 years, 91 days | W 1-0 vs LA on 05/10/97
“We know how good John is,” Russell said of Pulskamp. “We see it day in and day out. He’s a great guy and a great professional. He goes about his job brilliantly everyday. I’m delighted for him. Coming in last minute with not a lot of time to prepare for this, he’s a confident guy and you saw that tonight. A big save for us is just as important as any goal with a goalkeeper making saves like that. He was brilliant tonight.”
It should be noted that Pulskamp is a product of the LA Galaxy Academy, playing in 23 games for the Galaxy U-17s and U-19s prior to signing with Sporting KC II in 2019. His first clean sheet victory at the MLS level just so happened to come against his formative youth club.
“I was telling some of the guys on the inside that there’s no other team I’d rather have this type of performance against,” Pulskamp said. “To get my first MLS clean sheet against the team that I had played for and come up through their youth system makes it all that much sweeter. I am appreciative of the Galaxy for everything that they gave me but I’m very happy I ended up at Sporting.”
While Russell and Pulskamp grabbed the headlines on Wednesday, there is plenty more love to go around in this edition of Beyond the Box Score.
Let’s start with French midfielder Remi Walter, whose 90-minute performance in midfield—coming four days after he scored his first MLS goal in a massive win at Seattle Sounders FC—was highlighted by a perfect 35-of-35 passing performance.
Since the dawn of the MLS Opta era in 2010, a Sporting player has finished with 30 or more passes and 100% passing accuracy in a match just four times. Remarkably, Walter has accounted for three of those four occasions this season alone.
On the team side, Sporting’s 12 multi-goal wins are three more than any other club this season. Vermes’ men are a perfect 17-0-0 this year when scoring two or more goals and 0-7-7 when scoring one or fewer.
MOST MULTI-GOAL WINS IN 2021 MLS REGULAR SEASON
- 12 wins | Sporting Kansas City | 17-7-7 record
- 9 wins | Colorado Rapids | 15-7-10 record
- 8 wins | Seattle Sounders FC | 17-8-7 record
- 8 wins | Nashville SC | 12-4-16 record
- 7 wins | New York City FC | 13-11-8 record
- 7 wins | D.C. United | 13-14-5 record
It’s also time to re-examine Sporting’s club record home scoring streak in the regular season, which began way back on Aug. 10, 2019, and has now reached 31 matches. If Sporting can double their current streak and bring the run to 62 games—a tall task, for sure—it would still fall short of the league-record 64-game streak set by D.C. United from 1996-1999.
LONGEST ACTIVE HOME SCORING STREAKS IN MLS REGULAR SEASON
- 31 matches | Sporting Kansas City | since 08/10/19
- 24 matches | Los Angeles FC | Since 09/02/20
- 13 matches | Nashville SC | since 05/08/21
Lastly, we would be remiss not to shine light on another major milestone for Vermes. The 13th-year manager because the fourth person to coach 400 MLS regular season matches and the first to do so with one club.
MLS HEAD COACHES WITH 400 REGULAR SEASON MATCHES COACHED
- 548 matches | Sigi Schmid | 19 seasons | 240-183-125 record
- 487 matches | Bruce Arena | 17 seasons | 240-135-112 record
- 444 matches | Dominic Kinnear | 16 seasons | 170-138-136 record
- 400 matches | Peter Vermes | 13 seasons | 172-128-100 record
Sporting’s first of three remaining regular season matches will take place Sunday afternoon when Vermes’ side visits regional rivals Minnesota United FC in a 12 p.m. CT kickoff at Allianz Field. Fans can catch the action live nationally on ESPN and ESPN Deportes as well as locally on ESPN 94.5 FM and La Grande 1340 AM. With a win, Sporting would clinch a top-three finish in the Supporters’ Shield standings and a berth in the 2022 Concacaf Champions League.