Johnny Russell’s sensational hat-trick lifted Sporting Kansas City to a 3-2 win over Seattle Sounders FC in an absorbing five-goal thriller on Sunday night at Children’s Mercy Park.
The Scottish forward became the second player in club history to record multiple regular-season hat-tricks in a Kansas City uniform, striking twice in the first half and slotting home the 68th-minute winner as Sporting (3-4-5, 14 points) secured their first victory since March 30 and snapped second-place Seattle’s six-game unbeaten streak in a Western Conference clash that entertained from beginning to end before a nationally televised audience on FS1.
Manager Peter Vermes’ side entered Sunday winless in seven straight league matches, but a spirited performance against the in-form Sounders (7-2-5, 26 points) yielded an invaluable triumph for the hosts, who climb within four points of the seventh and final playoff spot with multiple games in hand on several of their conference rivals. Seattle nearly salvaged a point behind Raul Ruidiaz and Kelvin Leerdam’s goals midway through the second period, only for their late rally to fall short in the warm Kansas City sunshine.
Yohan Croizet, who recorded two assists in the center forward position, represented the lone lineup change from last Saturday’s 1-1 home draw with Vancouver Whitecaps FC. The Frenchman replaced Sporting’s leading scorer Krisztian Nemeth, who served a one-game red card suspension and will be available for selection Wednesday when the LA Galaxy visit Children’s Mercy Park.
Eager to bounce back into the victory column, Sporting asserted early control as Seattle survived early scares from Russell and Gutierrez, both of whom forced saves from Sounders goalkeeper Stefan Frei within the first three minutes. Home fans felt aggrieved shortly thereafter when Kelyn Rowe flicked the ball up into the midsection of Leerdam, but referee Chris Penso waved away handball protestations inside the box.
Right back Nico Hasler provided the spark that led to Sporting’s opening goal in the 29th minute. His clever through ball into the attacking third reached Croizet, who shouldered off a challenge from Brad Smith and teed up Russell just outside the box. The insatiable forward promptly picked out the far left corner from 20 yards to fire his side ahead, also giving Croizet and Hasler their first assists of the campaign.
Seattle remained on the back foot, breathing a sigh of relief when Rowe volleyed over the bar after chasing a pinpoint Matt Besler long ball, and suffered another blow when center back Kim Kee-hee exited injured in the 38th minute. That resulted in an MLS debut for his replacement Xavier Arreaga, who signed for Seattle as a Designated Player earlier this month.
Russell bagged his second on the stroke of intermission, emasculating the Sounders backline in a sensational solo run down the right side. Receiving a pass from Ilie, he weaved through multiple Seattle defenders and rifled low past Frei to bring the Children’s Mercy Park faithful to their feet and give Vermes’ men a two-goal halftime cushion.
The Sounders gained a foothold after the restart, but not before Sporting almost went agonizingly close in the 54th minute. Croizet’s shrewd backwards header fell into the path of Gutierrez, who was unable to pull the trigger under the duress of several converging defenders. Rowe came close to cleaning up the loose ball, and only a last-ditch Arreaga clearance spared Seattle’s blushes.
Leerdam did wonderfully to orchestrate Seattle’s counter-punch in the 63rd minute, taking a Harry Shipp pass and spinning free into the box. He then cut the ball back to Ruidiaz, who took a steadying touch and hammered high into the roof of the net for his sixth goal of 2019 to make the score 2-1.
Just when the Sounders thought they had seized momentum, Russell landed his third haymaker of the day and entered the Sporting history books. Rowe’s layoff pass was perfectly weighted, but Russell still had plenty of work to do as he sent a scorching curler across Frei and into the left corner. His seventh MLS tally of the year tied Nemeth for the team lead and made Russell the second Sporting player-alongside Eddie Johnson in 2007-to net two regular-season hat-tricks for the club, having previously done so in a 6-0 thrashing of Vancouver in April 2018.
Head coach Brian Schmetzer’s side wouldn’t go away, however, and seconds after Melia produced a brilliant save to deny Shipp in the 70th minute, Seattle cut the deficit to one when Leerdam latched onto Nicolas Lodeiro’s corner kick and poked home amidst a goalmouth scramble.
Melia had no intention of conceding an equalizer and delivered heroically in the 74th minute, leaping to get his mitt to Lodeiro’s shot and swatting away the rebound before Shipp could get his boot to the ball. The visitors continued to probe in search of a late leveler, and an acrobatic clearance from Besler reaggravated the hamstring issue that had kept him out for most of the previous month. Center back Graham Smith subbed in for the captain on 79 minutes, tasked with shoring up the defense as Seattle continued to push forward.
Children’s Mercy Park roared in the 89th minute when Croizet made way for midfielder Jimmy Medranda, who entered as Sporting’s final substitute for his first MLS appearance since May 20, 2018. The diminutive Colombian has spent the last 12 months overcoming a knee injury and nearly blew the proverbial roof off the stadium in the 91st minute when his left-footed sledgehammer from distance rattled the woodwork.
Roman Torres offered Seattle’s last attempt at an equalizer, and although his low drive from a tight angle slipped through Melia’s legs, the goalkeeper recovered to throw his body on top of the loose ball and preserve his side’s 3-2 lead.
With three precious points in the bag, Sporting will play for a second successive victory on Wednesday when they meet the third-place Galaxy (8-5-1, 25 points) at 7:30 p.m. CT. Tickets for the match are on sale at SeatGeek.com as Sporting celebrates Soccer For All, signifying that all fans are welcome to the club regardless of race, color, religion, national origin, gender, gender identity, disability, sexual orientation or socioeconomic status. The game will air live on FOX Sports Kansas City Plus, FOX Sports Midwest Plus, Sports Radio 810 WHB and ESPN Deportes KC 1480 AM.