As momentum builds toward Major League Soccer’s 26th season in 2021, Sporting Kansas City players and coaches will look to lay the foundations for another successful campaign when preseason training unfolds this month in Arizona.
With newcomers joining familiar faces for the 2021 preseason presented by Children’s Mercy, SportingKC.com has launched the “Sporting Preseason Spotlight” web series to acquaint supporters with the goalkeepers, defenders, midfielders and forwards who will help Sporting Kansas City compete for silverware in 2021. To read up on every player and visit the series archive as it expands, head to SportingKC.com/Spotlight.
Just about everyone was happy and no one was surprised when Sporting Kansas City Manager Peter Vermes appointed forward Johnny Russell as the club's new captain earlier this week.
A warrior on the field, a jokester in the locker room, a humanitarian in the community and a leader in more ways than one, Russell has become a beloved fan favorite during his successful tenure in Kansas City. Adding to the trophy cabinet in 2021 would cement his legacy as a living legend at the club, and that's precisely what the talented winger will set out to do in the months to come.
One of the most dynamic attackers in MLS, Russell has helped lead Sporting on and off the field since joining the club in 2018. The 30-year-old Scottish international has amassed 27 goals and 30 assists in 96 competitive matches for Sporting, guiding the team to first-place finishes in the Western Conference in 2018 and 2020.
Russell's fine form with Sporting has resulted in several recent call-ups to the Scotland Men's National Team, although the COVID-19 pandemic prevented him from joining Scotland in 2020. He has 14 caps for his country and is currently in contention for a coveted roster spot ahead of the highly anticipated UEFA Euro this summer.
Before joining MLS, the Glasgow, Scotland, native enjoyed stints at Dundee United in his homeland as well as Derby County in the second-division English Championship. He has scored upwards of 100 goals for club and country since turning professional in 2007 as a teenager.
Russell, who was named Sporting’s Offensive Player of the Year in 2018 and 2019, earned 2020 team MVP honors to punctuate an excellent third season in Kansas City. He was tied for the team lead with six goals in the regular season—including two game-winners—and placed second with four assists. The only Sporting player to appear in all 25 competitive matches last year, Russell also led the side with 31 chances created and 42 dribbles completed.
Expectations remain as high as ever for Russell, who enters 2021 as Sporting's new designated captain. Look for the winger to continue making life miserable for the opposition.
Russell is one of only five MLS players with a combined 20 goals and 20 assists over the last three regular seasons, joining Carlos Vela, Diego Valeri, Alberth Elis and Darwin Quintero.
He Said It
“I said it last year when I was given the armband temporarily, it’s a massive honor. To be officially named captain is an (important) thing for me and something I won’t take lightly. Everyone knows by now what you’re going to get from me and that’s not going to change.
“The players know I’m a very open guy. Mainly with the younger guys, they know they can come to me with any questions or any problems that they’ve got. I’m probably more of a physical leader—I’m vocal and I try to lead with actions. The manager has obviously seen something that he thinks I can bring to the team, so again, it’s a massive honor.”
Russell upon being named Sporting's new captain earlier this week.
Did You Know?
Johnny's younger brother, Martin, has Down Syndrome and plays for a disability-inclusive club team in Scotland called the Claremont Colts. A few years ago, the Colts lost a couple of sponsors and were forced to fundraise in order to afford new uniforms. They raised some money but not enough, so Russell wrote the team a check to cover the rest. The Colts honored the gesture by printing Russell's name on their new jerseys.
On Social Media
Supporters can follow Russell on Instagram at @johnnyrussell7.