Beyond The Box Score: Free Kick Johnny saves Sporting in Colorado

The 2018 season saw Sporting Kansas City Manager Peter Vermes display an uncanny knack for making timely and impactful substitutions. Sporting received a dozen MLS goals from players off the bench, comfortably more than any other team over the course of the year.

Fast-forward to Sunday's Western Conference clash against the Colorado Rapids at chilly Dick's Sporting Goods Park, and Vermes found himself in a similar situation. With his team trailing 1-0 at the hour mark, the 11th-year head coach was prompted to make a game-changing switch.

Enter Johnny Russell, the 28-year-old Scottish international who was nothing short of a revelation in his first MLS campaign with 10 goals and 10 assists during the 2018 regular season.

Russell had yet to open his 2019 scoring account entering Sunday, but that changed with one moment of magic that Sporting so desperately needed in the dying embers of the contest.

In the 88th minute, Russell curled a sublime free kick over the Colorado wall and just inside the right post to restore parity and give Sporting a valuable road point heading into the FIFA international break. By doing so, he also gave Sporting its first direct free kick goal in three and a half years of regular-season play.

Interestingly enough, each of Sporting's previous three direct free kick goals in the MLS regular season came from a player who was donning a Rapids uniform on Sunday night. That would be Benny Feilhaber, the longtime Kansas City midfielder who bagged three free kicks under Vermes during his trophy-laden stint with the club.

Russell's left-footed strike was Sporting's sixth goal from a direct free kick since the Opta era began in 2010. It was also the very first from a substitute and only the second of the game-tying variety. Almost nine years ago, club legend Davy Arnaud buried a free kick under similar circumstances as Kansas City erased a 1-0 second-half deficit at the Philadelphia Union

SPORTING KC: DIRECT FREE KICK GOALS DURING OPTA ERA
(MLS REGULAR SEASON SINCE 2010)

Player Date Opponent Score Minute Result
Johnny Russell 03/17/2019 at Colorado Rapids Tied 1-1 88th Tied 1-1
Benny Feilhaber 09/18/2015 FC DALLAS Up 1-0 65th Won 3-1
Benny Feilhaber 07/19/2014 LA GALAXY Up 1-0 10th Won 2-1
Benny Feilhaber 08/10/2013 NEW ENGLAND REVOLUTION Up 3-0 92nd Won 3-0
Graham Zusi 06/12/2011 at FC Dallas Up 3-1 55th Won 4-1
Davy Arnaud 09/04/2010 at Philadelphia Union Tied 1-1 71st Tied 1-1

After navigating a wild stretch of six matches in 18 days, Sporting will now have the international break to prepare for their next regular season match against the Montreal Impact at 2 p.m. CT on Saturday, March 30, at Children's Mercy Park. Tickets are available on SeatGeek.com, including special ticket packages featuring limited edition scarves co-branded with local colleges (Kansas, Mizzou, K-State, UMKC and JCCC).

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