Anyone who witnessed Saturday’s Retro Night showdown between Sporting Kansas City and the Colorado Rapids would almost certainly come to unanimous agreement on the biggest highlight of the night at sold-out Children’s Mercy Park.
Indeed, Johnny Russell’s world-class free kick ignited wild celebrations inside the stadium and helped second-place Sporting (11-4-7, 40 points) claim a precious point against the third-place Rapids (11-4-5, 38 points) in a pivotal Western Conference clash.
Easy on the eye from start to finish, the 1-1 draw ebbed and flowed with both teams creating a number of notable chances. Sporting and Colorado would ultimately take a share of the spoils as the hosts delivered a performance that left Manager Peter Vermes impressed.
“I can’t say anything but great things about the guys’ effort and their commitment,” he said after the match. “It was a really high-level performance today. Their attitude and their mentality and to play the way they did for as long as they did—it was a heck of a performance from that perspective.”
Although the well-rounded display didn’t result in victory, Sporting did move within two points of first-place Seattle Sounders FC in the West. The club’s captain also made a huge splash, converting a 25-yard free kick shortly before halftime that deserves extra attention in this edition of Beyond the Box Score, presented by Compass Minerals.
For starters, Russell now has four goals from direct free kicks as a Sporting player. All of which have come over the last three seasons, ranking second in MLS during that time behind only Columbus Crew ace Lucas Zelarayan.
MOST GOALS FROM DIRECT FREE KICKS SINCE 2019
(MLS REGULAR SEASON AND PLAYOFFS)
- 6 goals | Lucas Zelarayan | Columbus Crew SC
- 4 goals | Johnny Russell | Sporting Kansas City
- 3 goals | Eduard Atuesta | LAFC
- 2 goals | nine players tied
Russell’s superb strike also moved him into a tie for ninth on Sporting’s all-time regular season goals chart. He and teammate Graham Zusi have bagged 29 goals apiece as the only active Kansas City players on the list below.
MOST GOALS IN SPORTING KC HISTORY
(MLS REGULAR SEASON)
- 71 goals | Preki | 218 appearances
- 57 goals | Dom Dwyer | 128 appearances
- 43 goals | Josh Wolff | 144 appearances
- 43 goals | Davy Arnaud | 240 appearances
- 39 goals | Chris Klein | 200 appearances
- 38 goals | Kei Kamara | 113 appearances
- 31 goals | Mo Johnston | 149 appearances
- 31 goals | Benny Feilhaber | 167 appearances
- 29 goals | Johnny Russell | 98 appearances
- 29 goals | Graham Zusi | 309 appearances
As the calendar turns to September, Sporting can look back on August—an arduous month that saw the club play seven games in all competitions—with utmost pride. By extending their regular season unbeaten run to six matches on Saturday, Sporting also completed the month of August without a league defeat.
This marks just the fifth time ever that Sporting has finished a full month unbeaten in six regular season matches, and the first since July 2011. Sporting has also finished a month unbeaten in five regular season games on four previous occasions.
SPORTING KC: UNBEATEN MONTHS IN MLS REGULAR SEASON
(MINIMUM FIVE MATCHES)
- April 2000 | 6 matches | 5-0-1 record
- May 2000 | 5 matches | 4-0-1 record
- May 2003 | 6 matches | 2-0-4 record
- June 2011 | 6 matches | 3-0-3 record
- July 2011 | 6 matches | 2-0-4 record
- Sept. 2012 | 5 matches | 3-0-2 record
- July 2014 | 5 matches | 4-0-1 record
- May 2015 | 5 matches | 3-0-2 record
- Aug. 2021 | 6 matches | 2-0-4 record
Sporting emerged from August without a league loss, but they have also been remarkably tough to beat since rounding into form in mid-May. Dating back to May 15—the fifth weekend of the 2021 MLS campaign—Sporting’s two losses are tied for the fewest in the league.
FEWEST LOSSES IN MLS SINCE MAY 15
- 2 losses | Sporting Kansas City | 9-2-6 record
- 2 losses | Minnesota United FC | 7-2-7 record
- 2 losses | Nashville SC | 7-2-8 record
- 3 losses | New England Revolution | 13-3-2 record
- 3 losses | Colorado Rapids | 9-3-4 record
- 3 losses | Seattle Sounders FC | 8-3-5 record
Led by head coach Robin Fraser, Colorado entered Saturday boasting three-game regular season winning streaks overall and on the road. The Rapids have received well-deserved plaudits for their competitiveness over the last two seasons, developing into one of the conference’s best teams. Their luck against Sporting, however, has served as a clear exception.
Since the start of 2020, for example, the Rapids are winless in six meetings versus Sporting with a 0-3-3 record and 0.5 points per game. Against the rest of MLS, they are 19-7-6 with 1.97 points per match. The statistical disparities don’t stop there, as illustrated by the list below.
COLORADO VS. SPORTING KC AND REST OF MLS
(MLS REGULAR SEASON SINCE 2020)
- Record: 0-3-3 vs. SKC (19-7-6 vs. rest of MLS)
- Points per match: 0.50 vs. SKC (1.97 vs. rest of MLS)
- Goals per match: 0.83 vs. SKC (1.78 vs. rest of MLS)
- Goals against avg: 2.00 vs. SKC (1.13 vs. rest of MLS)
- Shots per match: 8.8 vs. SKC (14.0 vs. rest of MLS)
- SOG per match: 2.8 vs. SKC (5.0 vs. rest of MLS)
- Shots faced: 15.8 vs. SKC (13.0 vs. rest of MLS)
- “I’m a guy that when we play well and we lose the game, I’m okay with that because that means we’re playing the way we want to play,” said Sporting’s Roger Espinoza, who occupied the holding midfield role for the first time in his storied Kansas City career. “Tonight I thought we did that—we played the way we wanted to play and we added one point. We still have our confidence there, (and) I think getting a point is a lot better than anything else.”
Lastly, we’d be remiss not to point out several other noteworthy stats and facts to come from Saturday’s encounter.
SKCvCOL MISCELLANEOUS STATS AND FACTS
- Sporting’s 19 points from losing positions (five wins, four draws) are five more than any other MLS club this season.
- Sporting extended its club record by scoring in their 26th straight regular season home match, the longest active run in MLS and a streak that began on Aug. 10, 2019.
- Sporting’s four fouls committed on Saturday were tied for second fewest in club regular season history. The team has committed three fouls on three different occasions.
- Roger Espinoza broke his tie with Preki for second most fouls suffered in club regular season history (363).
- Graham Zusi broke his tie with Davy Arnaud for second most shots in club regular season history (453).
With a hard-earned point in the bag, Sporting will now prepare for another marquee battle in the Western Conference as Manager Peter Vermes’ side visits LAFC (6-9-6, 24 points) on Friday night at Banc of California Stadium. The contest will kick off at 9 p.m. CT with live coverage on Bally Sports Kansas City Plus, UniMas and TUDN.