Beyond The Box Score: Sporting and Portland see red as Johnny Russell stays productive

Sporting Kansas City's 2019 home finale certainly wasn't lacking in entertainment value.

In a feverish battle between Western Conference sides at Children's Mercy Park, Sporting and the Portland Timbers settled for a 2-2 draw that packed plenty of compelling talking points.

At the forefront, unseasonably hot and humid playing conditions proved rather fitting in a game that saw blood boil over on multiple occasions. Both clubs combined for three straight red cards—tied for the most in an MLS match since the Opta era began in 2010—as Timbers striker Brian Fernandez and Sporting duo Roger Espinoza and Ilie Sanchez received their marching orders from referee Alan Chapman.

Fernandez and Espinoza were sent off late in the first half for their roles in a skirmish that involved several players near the Portland technical area. Ilie was then ejected in the late stages for the denial of an obvious goal scoring opportunity.

All in all, however, Sunday's match wasn't overly combative. Chapman whistled just 13 total fouls, marking the first time in the Opta era that two teams combined for three red cards but fewer than 17 fouls in the same game.

This decade, Sporting has been involved in one previous match that yielded three straight reds. All three were issued to the Houston Dynamo in last year's 1-0 road win at BBVA Compass Stadium.

THREE STRAIGHT RED CARDS IN AN MLS MATCH (2010-PRESENT)

Date Result Total Fouls
09/29/2019 Sporting Kansas City 2-2 Portland Timbers 13
07/27/2019 Portland Timbers 4-0 LA Galaxy 17
08/18/2012 Montreal Impact 3-1 San Jose Earthquakes 17
05/04/2013 Philadelphia 2-2 Seattle Sounders FC 21
07/19/2017 Portland Timbers 1-4 Real Salt Lake 24
08/04/2018 Houston Dynamo 0-1 Sporting Kansas City 28
06/07/2015 San Jose Earthquakes 0-0 FC Dallas 28
08/24/2013 FC Dallas 2-2 San Jose Earthquakes 32

While all three ejections played a relevant role in the outcome of Sunday's clash, so too did the influential contributions of players on both ends. Sporting's 30th-minute equalizer was nodded home by Krisztian Nemeth, who entered a tie for the team lead with his 12th goal in all competitions. It was the Hungarian's first goal since May 18 and, perhaps more notably, Kansas City's 1,300th goal in club history.

Espinoza and Johnny Russell were credited with assists on Nemeth's header, helping both players to commendable milestones. Espinoza entered a tie for fifth place on the team's all-time regular season assists chart.

SPORTING: ALL-TIME ASSIST LEADERS
(MLS REGULAR SEASON)

X Player Assists Appearances Seasons
1 Preki 98 218 1996-2000, 2002-2005
2 Graham Zusi 65 278 2009-present
3 Chris Klein 45 200 1998-2005
4 Benny Feilhaber 43 167 2013-2017, 2019-present
5 Davy Arnaud
Roger Espinoza
35
35
240
238
2002-2011
2008-2012, 2015-present

Russell, on the other hand, entered an even more exclusive club. The Scottish international became just the second player in Kansas City history to register at least nine goals and nine assists in back-to-back regular seasons. The only other player to do so was club legend Preki, who had double-digit goals and assists in the first three years of MLS from 1996-1998.

Furthermore, Russell's 38 combined goals and assists since joining the side in early 2018 rank behind just two Sporting players for the most in consecutive regular seasons. Preki amassed 40 or more goals and assists in four separate two-season stints, while current midfielder Benny Feilhaber exploded for 45 goals and assists from 2015-2016.

MOST COMBINED GOALS + ASSISTS IN CONSECUTIVE REGULAR SEASONS
(SPORTING KC HISTORY)

Player GLS + AST Seasons Year
(GLS-AST)
Year
(GLS-AST)
Preki 60 1996-1997 1996
(18 G, 13 A)
1997
(12 G, 17 A)
Preki 52 1997-1998 1997
(12 G, 17 A)
1998
(10 G, 13 A)
Preki 46 2002-2003 2002
(7 G, 10 A)
2003
(12 G, 17 A)
Benny Feilhaber 45 2015-2016 2015
(10 G, 15 A)
2016
(7 G, 13 A)
Preki 41 1998-1999 1998
(10 G, 13 A)
1999
(7 G, 11 A)
Johnny Russell 38 2018-2019 2018
(10 G, 10 A)
2019
(9 G, 9 A)

Another feel-good moment followed less than 60 seconds after the restart. Sporting KC Academy Daniel Salloi, who bagged a team-best 16 goals in 2018, opened his 2019 scoring account with a crisp finish past Portland keeper Steve Clark. The strike was Salloi's first in exactly 10 months, having previously scored in the second leg of the 2018 Western Conference Championship, coincidentally against the Timbers.

"This goal means a lot more to me than you would think," Salloi said postgame. "It’s been a difficult year but I really want to say a big thank you to the fans for pushing me all year long and my teammates and the coaching staff. It means a lot that they have confidence in me all year long. This goal, I think you can see with the celebration, that it meant a lot to me and my teammates. I wish that we could have finished with three points, but hopefully we can win in our last game at Dallas."

Set to miss the MLS Cup Playoffs for the first time since 2010, drawing an end to the fourth-longest playoff streak in league history, Manager Peter Vermes’ men will now prepare for their last match of the 2019 campaign next Sunday against FC Dallas. One of 12 MLS fixtures slated to kick off simultaneously at 3 p.m. CT on Decision Day, the contest will air live FOX Sports Kansas City, FOX Sports Midwest, FOX Sports GO, ESPN 94.5 FM and La Grande 1340 AM.

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