KANSAS CITY, Kan. — With intermittent rain falling over Children’s Mercy Park, Sporting Kansas City captain Johnny Russell put his teammates on his back, finding the back of the net twice in a 2-1 comeback victory over the Houston Dynamo in the Round of 16 of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup.
“It’s what the captain is supposed to do. At the end of the day, that’s why he’s the captain and I don’t mean that comically,” manager Peter Vermes said. “He’s the captain. He’s the leader. That’s why the guys respect him. He wins all the time. He wins in practice. He brings it to the game week in and week out and that’s why the team follows him.”
With injuries plaguing the club, Vermes sent out a lineup with some players in different positions to start the game.
“You don’t want to take them out of their rhythm,” Vermes said. “But because of the team and the way the team is at the moment with so many guys being out, we had to rotate some guys around. In some respects, it actually worked pretty well because I don’t think that they were ready for it.”
Near the end of the first half, the Dynamo took the lead when Darwin Quintero found Corey Baird streaking toward the top of the penalty box. Baird struck it past goalkeeper John Pulskamp who was filling in for Tim Melia.
Despite going down, Sporting started the second half on the front foot, creating chances and keeping Houston back in their own half.
In the 52nd minute, a Dynamo clearance from the penalty box found Russell who cut the ball back toward his favored left foot. He was knocked down, tried to get up, knocked down again, with referee Calin Radosav swallowing his whistle.
The no-call worked in the Scotsman’s favor, though.
He unleashed a rocket left-footed shot that stayed low and found the bottom left corner of Michael Nelson’s goal for the tie.
“He brings a level of energy and a level of competitiveness that is a great example for every guy on our team and it’s infectious,” Vermes said. “Don’t get me wrong, the other guys are working, they’re trying, they’re fighting, but at the end he finds a way.”
But Russell, who has been battling through injuries himself, wasn’t finished.
“I’m never going to use that as an excuse. I’ve made myself available for my team and I’m going to continue to do that until it’s physically impossible,” Russell said.
With under 20 minutes left in the game, fellow winger Daniel Salloi found himself inside the penalty box with the ball at his feet. He caught defender Daniel Steres off balance, causing a collision that took Salloi down. Radosav blew his whistle and the Sporting captain took the ball and headed for the penalty spot.
Russell buried it, completing his brace and sent Kansas City to the quarterfinals.
“Obviously, it was a disappointing first half to go in down, but it’s pretty similar to the last Cup game as well,” Russell said. “We came from behind and it’s a good win at the end of the day and into the next round and at home as well.”
Behind Russell’s leadership and toughness, Sporting Kansas City find themselves amongst the final eight teams in the tournament, with a match against USL League 1-side, and U.S. Open Cup Cinderella story, Union Omaha on the horizon.
“He’s our leader and we all follow him. When he leads with the tempo, he fights through everything. With small injuries, other players probably would not play, but he plays,” SKC defender Andreu Fontas said. “He goes through everything and plays lots of minutes. He is an example, and again, having leaders like that is huge for the rest of the team because we cannot be less than him. We have to try to be at his level.”
Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup Quarterfinal matchups
- New York Red Bulls vs NYCFC
- Orlando City SC vs Nashville SC
- Sporting Kansas City vs Union Omaha (USL1)
- Los Angeles Galaxy vs Sacramento Republic FC (USLC)
Match day details have not been released yet, but the game will either be played on June 21 or 22 at Children’s Mercy Park.