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Johnny Russell brace sends Sporting KC to Open Cup quarterfinals in 2-1 comeback win over Houston

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Captain Johnny Russell lifted Sporting Kansas City into the 2022 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup quarterfinals by striking twice in the second half of a 2-1 victory over rivals Houston Dynamo FC on Wednesday night at Children’s Mercy Park.

Down 1-0 at halftime in the Round of 16 clash, Sporting rallied emphatically as Russell bagged a sensational equalizer in the 52nd minute and a decisive penalty kick in the 73rd.

Recording their second straight comeback win in the tournament, Manager Peter Vermes’ men have booked an Open Cup quarterfinal date with USL League One outfit Union Omaha at 7:30 p.m. CT on June 22 at Children’s Mercy Park. Tickets for the match are included in Season Ticket Member packages and will go on sale to the general public via SeatGeek.com at 10 a.m. CT on Friday.

Wednesday’s result means Sporting has prevailed in 11 consecutive Open Cup home matches since 2015 and boasts a 5-1-2 home record in all competitions this season. With just one loss in their last eight games over the last month, Sporting will conclude a busy stretch of seven fixtures in 22 days by hosting Vancouver Whitecaps FC in MLS regular season action on Saturday. The Western Conference tilt will kick off at 8 p.m. CT with tickets available on SeatGeek and live coverage on 38 The Sport, SportingKC.com and the Sporting KC app.

Suiting up for the sixth time in 19 days, Sporting fielded a lineup that featured three changes from Sunday’s regular season road draw against the San Jose Earthquakes. Goalkeeper John Pulskamp replaced Tim Melia, while Center back Andreu Fontas and forward Daniel Salloi returned from red card suspensions as defender Robert Voloder and veteran Roger Espinoza dropped to the bench.

Fresh off an impressive 3-0 triumph at the LA Galaxy on Sunday, Houston entered the night with two away wins this season—double their paltry total from 2020 and 2021 combined—and nearly silenced the Children’s Mercy Park faithful inside three minutes if not for goalkeeping heroics from Pulskamp. Houston playmaker Memo Rodriguez surged into the attacking third and unleashed a 30-yard sledgehammer, forcing the 21-year-old into a fingertip save that kept the game goalless.

Sporting gradually gained a foothold, however, and were awarded a dangerous set piece on 18 minutes after Felipe Hernandez intercepted a pass at midfield and played to Remi Walter, who was clattered from behind by Darwin Ceren. Russell, who scored in the 1-1 stalemate at San Jose last weekend, curled his ensuing free kick around Houston’s four-man wall and inches wide of goalkeeper Michael Nelson’s left-hand post.

Close to the half-hour mark, the Dynamo responded with another well-crafted move of their own. Midfielder Brooklyn Raines, a 17-year-old U.S. youth international, motored down the right side and slipped a pass to the overlapping Griffin Dorsey, who lashed a shot high and wide of the target.

Houston’s incisiveness was on display once more in the 41st minute as Baird vaulted the visitors ahead 1-0. Midfield talisman Darwin Quintero received a pass with his back to goal, swiveled and squeezed a through ball to the feet of Baird, who tucked low past Pulskamp for his fifth career goal against Sporting and his first in Open Cup competition. Hernandez almost conjured an instant reply for the hosts, but his right-footed sledgehammer from 30 yards was touched over the crossbar by Nelson.

Vermes, who leads active MLS coaches with three Open Cup titles, freshened his side with a pair of substitutions at halftime. Espinoza, the club’s all-time Open Cup appearance leader, relieved Uri Rosell and Ben Sweat made way for forward Khiry Shelton, who had missed the previous two league matches with a calf injury. Five minutes into the second stanza, Espinoza had a good look to level terms off a Logan Ndenbe cutback but lifted his first-time effort wayward.

A moment of Russell magic restored parity in the 52nd minute. The Sporting captain won possession on the right edge of the penalty area, and although he initially toppled to the turf on a tackle attempt from Beto Avila, Russell instantly regained his footing and split a pair of defenders before sending a left-footed blast low into the left corner.

Russell had a chance to double his tally in the 61st minute, planting a header high off Ndenbe’s looping cross, before Shelton and Walter both saw their efforts blocked through traffic during a chaotic moment in the penalty area. Sporting kept its proverbial foot on the pedal and went agonizingly close to jumping ahead in the 70th minute. Duke’s long-range piledriver was blocked from a central position but Fontas kept the ball alive with a bicycle kick in behind the Houston backline, prompting Nelsen to advance off his line and smother Salloi’s shot at a tight angle.

Undeterred, Salloi did wonders for his team just a moment later by slithering into the box and drawing a foul on Houston center back Daniel Steres. Referee Calin Radosav immediately pointed to the spot and Russell promptly buried the spot kick for his team-best sixth goal of the 2022 campaign and the 49th of his heralded Sporting career.

Pacey winger Fafa Picault provided a spark for Houston from off the bench, dashing down the left flank and racing through on goal in the 81st minute, but Pulskamp delivered a clutch save to keep his team in front.

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Derek Nester
Derek Nesterhttps://sunflowerstateradio.com
Derek Nester was born and raised in Blue Rapids and graduated from Valley Heights High School in 2000. He attended Cowley College in Arkansas City and Johnson County Community College in Overland Park studying Journalism & Media Communications. In 2002 Derek joined Taylor Communications, Inc. in Salina, Kansas working in digital media for 550 AM KFRM and 100.9 FM KCLY. Following that stop, he joined Dierking Communications, Inc. stations KNDY AM & FM as a board operator and fill-in sports play-by-play announcer. Starting in 2005 Derek joined the Kansas City Chiefs Radio Network as a Studio Coordinator at 101 The Fox in Kansas City, a role he would serve for 15 years culminating in the Super Bowl LIV Championship game broadcast. In 2021 he moved to Audacy, formerly known as Entercom Communications, Inc. and 106.5 The Wolf and 610 Sports Radio, the new flagship stations of the Kansas City Chiefs Radio Network, the largest radio network in the NFL. Through all of this, Derek continues to serve as the Digital Media Director for Sunflower State Radio, the digital and social media operations of Dierking Communications, Inc. and the 6 radio stations it owns and operates across Kansas.

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