Scottish forward Johnny Russell has made quite the splash since joining Sporting Kansas City as a high-profile acquisition in late January.
The 28-year-old opened his scoring account in a 4-3 win over the Chicago Fire on March 10, quickly endeared himself to supporters with a strong run of tireless performances throughout the spring and effectively stamped his name in MLS with a rampant hat-trick to spur a 6-0 thrashing of Vancouver Whitecaps FC on April 20.
And as the story goes, Russell's rise as a Kansas City fan favorite produced another entertaining chapter in Saturday's hotly contested 2-2 draw with Toronto FC at Children's Mercy Park.
In the 61st minute, just four minutes after Ilie's penalty kick had drawn Sporting KC level at 1-1, Russell raced onto a delightful pass from fellow forward Diego Rubio and calmly slotted low past Reds keeper Alex Bono to give the hosts their first lead and ignite fervent celebrations throughout the stadium.
In doing so, Russell notched his 100th career goal of a professional club career that began in 2007 with Dundee United in his native Scotland. The clever finish was his seventh in a Sporting KC uniform and his sixth in MLS play, both tied with Daniel Salloi for the team lead in 2018.
JOHNNY RUSSELL: 100 GOALS AS A PROFESSIONAL
|2007-08||Dundee United (SCO)||0||0||0||0||0|
|2008-09||Forfar Athletic (SCO)||8||0||0||0||8|
|2008-09||Dundee United (SCO)||0||1||0||0||1|
|2009-10||Raith Rovers (SCO)||4||1||0||0||5|
|2009-10||Dundee United (SCO)||0||0||1||0||1|
|2010-11||Dundee United (SCO)||9||0||0||0||9|
|2011-12||Dundee United (SCO)||9||4||1||1||15|
|2012-13||Dundee United (SCO)||13||5||2||0||20|
|2013-14||Derby County (ENG)||9||0||0||0||9|
|2014-15||Derby County (ENG)||6||0||2||0||8|
|2015-16||Derby County (ENG)||10||0||0||0||10|
|2016-17||Derby County (ENG)||2||0||0||0||2|
|2017-18||Derby County (ENG)||4||0||1||0||5|
|2018||Sporting KC (USA)||6||1||0||0||7|
To make matters even sweeter, Russell's 100th goal came with a slew of family members visiting from Scotland in attendance.
"It personally means a lot," Russell said postgame of his landmark strike. "It’s always nice to get to any milestone in your career. Unfortunately it couldn’t lead to a win tonight. From the personal point of view, it’s a nice feeling for me to get there and my family is here, as well. They flew over from Scotland. Having them here to witness it as well is a great touch."
While happy to reach the century mark, Russell was nonetheless aggrieved that Sporting KC was forced to split the points with a Toronto side that restored parity on 69 minutes through Jordan Hamilton's curling effort at the top of the box.
The result officially brings an end to Sporting KC's 15-week stay atop the Western Conference, a streak that began back in mid-March. That 15-week run in first place was the club's second-longest in club history, falling six weeks short of the 2000 streak that ultimately led to Kansas City's only Supporters' Shield title to date.
SPORTING KC: MOST CONSECUTIVE WEEKS IN FIRST PLACE
(ALL-TIME, MLS REGULAR SEASON)
|Weeks||Year||Supporters' Shield||Playoffs||Open Cup|
|21||2000||Champions||MLS Cup Champions||Lost in Round of 32|
|12||2012||2nd||Lost in Conference Semis||Champions|
Despite relinquishing their place at the summit, Sporting KC Manager Peter Vermes was complimentary of his team after the match.
"We’re down so many men and we’ve had to play a lot of young guys," Vermes said, referring to the club's injury bug as well as red card suspensions to Daniel Salloi and Roger Espinoza.
"I don’t mean that disrespectfully to [the young players] at all because they’re by far pulling their weight and doing more. I commend the guys. They’ve worked very hard. They’ve dealt with a lot of adversity. We probably could have gotten three points. At the end of the day, for us to get a point and fight back the way we did was excellent."
Mid-July will see Sporting KC hit the road for two consecutive away games, beginning with a high-profile matchup against the New York Red Bulls (10-4-2, 32 points) next Saturday at Red Bull Arena. Kickoff is slated for 6 p.m. CT on FOX Sports Kansas City and FOX Sports Midwest Plus as Vermes’ men visit one of the best sides in the Eastern Conference. Sporting KC will then continue their defense of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup when they travel to face rivals Houston Dynamo in the quarterfinals on July 18.