Johnny Russell pissed off - Sporting KC vs. FC Dallas - Sept. 19, 2020

Sporting KC Show Podcast: Johnny Russell talks keys to victory and Cal Williams gives insight on Minnesota United FC

Running throughout the season on Sports Radio 810 WHB, the Sporting Kansas City Show is available on several podcast hubs including Spotify and iTunes as well as With Nate Bukaty, Carter Augustine and Aly Trost hosting the weekly program, Sporting fans have a place to go to catch up on club storylines, guest interviews and more.

The newest episode of the Sporting Kansas City Show dropped Tuesday night on Sports Radio 810 WHB, serving up a perfect 52-minute primer ahead of Thursday’s highly anticipated Western Conference Semifinal showdown between Sporting and Minnesota United FC at Children’s Mercy Park.

Ten days removed from their Round One playoff victories, Sporting and Minnesota have had plenty of time to prepare for the monumental showdown, during which time several storylines have solidified.

It’s a meeting between two red-hot teams. Sporting are spearheaded by a balanced attack and the penalty-saving exploits of goalkeeper Tim Melia. Minnesota haven’t lost in two months and boast a remarkably talented roster—particularly in the midfield and on the wings. Oh, and the fact that Sporting owns a perfect 6-0 home record against the Loons.

Despite the Loons’ dismal record at Children’s Mercy Park, Minnesota commentator Cal Williams believed head coach Adrian Heath’s side will be visiting Kansas City with more confidence than ever.

“While coming down to Kansas City is one of the most difficult tasks in Major League Soccer, the intimidation factor is not what it has been in recent years,” Williams said. “That’s nothing to do with the way that Sporting operate. It has everything to do with the way Minnesota have put themselves together and the abundance of talent they now have at their disposal.”

In a detailed discussion with hosts Nate Bukaty, Carter Augustine and Aly Trost, Williams—who formerly called games for Sporting from 2011-2014—provided a comprehensive look at a Minnesota side that is clicking on all cylinders. The chief conductor, he said, has been Argentine playmaker Emanuel Reynoso, who has 10 assists in 14 MLS appearances since joining the club from Boca Juniors on Sept. 1.

“In terms of the way Minnesota play, it’s very easy on the eye, and it all comes through Reynoso,” Williams said. “Let’s make no bones about it—he’s the best player this club has ever had. For me, he’s already in the conversation of the top five No. 10s in Major League Soccer already, and he’s only been here for a couple of months. We’re only just scratching the surface with him.”

Williams noted that while Minnesota has earned plaudits for their attacking play—Reynoso, Kevin Molino and Robin Lod have been superb throughout the year—the backline has gone underappreciated given the number of injuries that have popped up in 2020. Reigning MLS Defender of the Year Ike Opara missed the entire season through injury, while goalkeeper Tyler Miller—who replaced 2019 Goalkeeper of the Year Vito Mannone—suffered a season-ending injury this summer. Despite that, the likes of reserve goalkeeper Dayne St. Clair and center back Michael Boxall have stepped up in a big way.

“The one person who I think deserves utmost respect and attention, and he gets none, is Michael Boxall, who for me has to be the team MVP of the season,” Williams said. “Many people may frown at that and suggest it’s Kevin Molino. I wouldn’t disagree with that, but I think Michael Boxall has been an unbelievable presence at the back. For me, he gets nowhere near the credit he deserves and should have been in conversation for the MLS Best XI. He has been beyond spectacular for Minnesota this season and should get more credit for what he’s done.”

After speaking with Williams, the hosts welcomed Sporting Kansas City winger Johnny Russell to the show. Russell, who received team MVP honors last month, is the only Sporting player who has featured in every competitive match for the club this season. His consistency as one of the league’s top attackers and ever-presence in the lineup was one of the reasons Manager Peter Vermes handed the captain’s armband to Russell earlier this fall.

While acknowledging that the captaincy was a huge honor, Russell said it hasn’t changed the way he conducts himself on or off the pitch.

“I feel that I’m one of the stronger personalities in the locker room anyway. Even with the young guys, I’m always there if they need to talk. I don’t feel like that aspect has changed anything, it’s just the honor of being chosen to join the other guys who have led this team (in the past),” he said. “It’s something to really be proud about. It’s a huge honor and something you don’t have many opportunities to get. Stepping out and wearing the armband, it’s a very proud moment every time I get to do it.”

As for the task at hand on Thursday night, Russell is expecting a hotly contested battle between two teams that know each other well.

“We’ve got to keep the ball in their half. We know how dangerous they are on the counter, so we need to be switched on defensively and limit the opportunities that they get to break on us,” Russell said. “That’s what the aim is, but we have the mindset that it isn’t about the other team. It’s about what we do. If we go about our business the right way, we feel we can beat anyone in this league.”

Thursday’s battle will be shown live nationally on FOX, FOX Deportes and the FOX Spots app with kickoff at 7:30 p.m. CT and coverage beginning at 7 p.m. CT. Fans can also catch the action on ESPN 94.5 FM and La Grande 1340 AM.