KANSAS CITY, Kan. – Sporting KC’s 3-2 win over the Seattle Sounders on Sunday marked the first time they’ve won since March 30, and that brought some welcome sounds back to the home locker room at Children’s Mercy Park.
Thanks to Johnny Russell’s hat-trick heroics, Sporting were able to play Queen after a match for the first time in two months, bringing relief and “Radio Ga Ga” to their post-game celebrations.
“We’ve not heard that for a while,” said Russell. “We usually play Queen when we win. I forgot the words, it’s been that long.”
Wracked by injuries, having gone nine matches in all competitions since their last win, SKC badly needed three points. That 7-1 demolition of the Montreal Impact back in March felt like another season. After multiple games where they’ve fumbled away attainable points at home, it took a figure like Russell to put the team on his back.
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“We needed it, and it came at a great time,” manager Peter Vermes said. “That’s what you need from special players like him, and it’s not when things are going really well and he sticks in three because you’re winning 5-0 or 3-0 already."
Russell’s teammates’ admiration for what he did was obvious. When he returned to the locker room, the rest of Sporting’s squad doused him in water, leaving a giant pool on the floor.
“The second one was ridiculous,” Benny Feilhaber said when asked which was his favorite of the three.
“I was telling him, ‘don’t they know that you don’t like to pass the ball?’ It was a parting of the Red Sea, as he said it, so it was amazing. We know he’s a special player, and today he won the game for us, especially in the offensive third. He did everything for us up there tonight.”
As “Hammer to Fall” started blaring over the locker-room sound system, Russell stepped up to talk about what led to his three- goal night.
“I just found a bit of space that I hadn’t been finding recently,” he said. “Teams have been making it difficult for me to find that space and for whatever reason today, we had a little bit of a change in formation with Yohan [Croizet] playing a bit as a false 9, dropping deeper and giving me more space to run in and exploit, and it worked for me.”
Which one was Russell’s favorite?
“The third one, the game winner, and it’s the hat trick. So I’ll take the third one.”
Russell becomes just the second player in Sporting history to bag two hat tricks for the club, and he’s done them just over 13 months apart. But he said the three points were really all he cared about.
“We felt it’s been coming for a while,” said Russell. “We’ve been a bit unfortunate at times and made it hard for ourselves as well. But I think today, we showed at times the Sporting that everyone knows: keeping the ball, moving well, everyone running off the ball, scored some great goals.”
Russell hopes that Sunday’s victory is something they can build on.
“We said before the game, it’s been far too long that we haven’t won a game,” said the Scotsman. “No other result was going to be good enough today, especially at home. We shouldn’t be dropping points at home. That’s the way we see it. We’ve had a difficult time. We’ve lost a lot of players, but we still feel we have a squad capable of going and winning games, and today was nice especially after not winning for so long.”