Two of the MLS Western Conference's perennial powers played out a riveting slugfest at Children's Mercy Park on Sunday evening, and a hat trick from Johnny Russell proved the difference-maker as Sporting Kansas City held off the Seattle Sounders for a wild 3-2 victory.
The win, Sporting's first in league play since March 30, looks like a vital breakthrough for Peter Vermes' team, and they have their hard-nosed Scottish winger to thank.
Russell got the home side off to a dream start on a warm day on the Great Plains, lacing a low drive past Stefan Frei from just outside the box in the 29th minute. Just before halftime he embarked on a mazy dribble through a crowd of Rave Green bodies before depositing another tidy finish into the bottom-left corner that has become his trademark hunting spot. He would complete his hat trick – into the very same corner again, no less – after intermission to push Sporting's lead to 3-1.
The Sounders rallied gamely, and repeatedly. First the visitors halved the deficit to 2-1 shortly after the hour mark via Raul Ruidiaz, and later Kelvin Leerdam, who'd done key work to set up Seattle's opener, found the net himself to set up a tense finish at 3-2. But despite some late drama, Tim Melia was not beaten again and the three points belonged to Sporting.
- 29' – SKC – Johnny Russell | WATCH
- 45+1' – SKC – Johnny Russell | WATCH
- 63' – SEA – Raul Ruidiaz | WATCH
- 68' – SKC – Johnny Russell | WATCH
- 71' – SEA – Kelvin Leerdam | WATCH
- THE BIG PICTURE: Summer conditions aside, this one pulsated like a do-or-die postseason clash, and both sides paid a price, with Matt Besler and Kim Kee-hee limping off with injuries and Nico Lodeiro picking up a yellow card that triggers a suspension on caution accumulations.
- MOMENT OF THE MATCH: Russell was a menace nearly every time he ventured into the final third and his third strike was proof that he would simply not allow his team's winless skid to extend any further.
- MAN OF THE MATCH: You guessed it, Johnny Russell is the day's hero, and then some.