(Oct. 27, 2021) — Johnny Russell continued his irresistible run of form with two goals to pace a 2-0 victory over LA Galaxy (13-12-7, 46 points) on Wednesday night as Sporting Kansas City (17-7-7, 58 points) surged atop the Western Conference standings and clinched a home match in the Audi 2021 MLS Cup Playoffs.
Sporting’s 400th win in all competitions saw Russell strike on both sides of halftime, extending his club-record scoring run to eight regular season matches, while Gadi Kinda added a pair of assists and 20-year-old John Pulskamp became the youngest goalkeeper in Sporting history to post an MLS shutout.
Boasting a perfect 17-0-0 record when scoring two or more goals this year, Sporting are tied with Seattle Sounders FC on 58 points with one game in hand and hold the head-to-head tiebreaker by virtue of greater goal differential.
Sporting’s first of three remaining regular season fixtures will take place Sunday afternoon when Manager Peter Vermes’ side visits regional rivals Minnesota United FC in a 12 p.m. CT kickoff at Allianz Field. Fans can catch the action live nationally on ESPN and ESPN Deportes as well as locally on ESPN 94.5 FM and La Grande 1340 AM.
Manager Peter Vermes notably coached his 400th regular season match on Wednesday, becoming the fourth head coach in MLS history to reach the milestone and the first to do so with one club. His starting XI for the midweek match featured one change from Saturday’s momentous 2-1 road win over Seattle as Pulskamp stepped in for the suspended Tim Melia.
The Galaxy survived a major scare inside two minutes when Sporting were denied by the post. Russell’s in-swinging corner kick fell invitingly to Ilie, whose right-footed poke near the penalty spot skipped through traffic and pinged off the woodwork.
Ilie asked further questions of the Galaxy defense moments later, sending a long ball over the top for Khiry Shelton. LA goalkeeper Jonathan Bond raced off his line to extinguish the danger, but Shelton beat him to the ball and almost prodded into an empty net on the breakaway. Before he could apply the finishing touch, Galaxy center back Sega Coulibaly retreated and hammered clear to keep the game goalless.
The hosts dominated territory and possession early, but LA gradually gained a foothold and responded with a clear-cut opportunity of their own on the half-hour mark. Veteran playmaker Victor Vazquez slipped a through ball into the path of Serbian striker Dejan Joveljic, whose near-post effort was bound for the back of the net, but Pulskamp extended his foot to produce a smart save.
Russell and Sporting drew first blood in the 40th minute on a breakneck attack that broke LA’s defensive resolve. Kinda embarked on a lung-busting run into the final third and pumped the brakes near the left edge of the penalty area before playing a lovely diagonal ball to Russell. The unplayable winger took a touch past defender Niko Hamalainen and fired low past Bond to extend his remarkable scoring streak to eight regular season matches, the fifth-longest run in MLS history. The strike also made Russell the league’s highest-scoring Scottish player of all time and extended Sporting’s club-record home scoring streak to 31 regular season matches dating back to
Kinda could have gone from provider to scorer eight minutes into the second half, connecting with Roger Espinoza on another breathless run forward, but his first-time attempt at the top of the box carried over the crossbar. Not long later, Russell conjured a bit of magic by dinking the ball over Hamalainen on the right edge of the box only to see his ensuing volley fizz wide.
At the opposite end, left back Luis Martins — the only Sporting player to feature in all 31 regular season matches this year — put his body on the line to make a crucial block in the 73rd minute, sliding to thwart Rayan Raveloson and preserve his team’s slender lead.
Russell and Kinda combined for the second time with 82 minutes on the clock, effectively putting the game to bed. Kinda picked up possession from Shelton, drove goalward and spread the ball right to an open Russell, who sent a sublime curler into the top left corner for his 14th goal of the season and his 10th in the last eight games. The 31-year-old forward now has 39 career regular season goals, tying current LA Galaxy president Chris Klein for fifth-most in club history.