Russell-Mania: Sporting KC regain top spot in the West behind Russell’s brace

Sporting KC

KANSAS CITY, Kan. — On a rainy Wednesday night at Children’s Mercy Park, Sporting Kansas City forward Johnny Russell continued his red-hot form as SKC shut out the LA Galaxy 2-0 in a midweek conference matchup.

The 400th win in club history ties the Seattle Sounders for the lead in the Western Conference with a game in hand, thanks in part to Seattle’s loss to LAFC on Tuesday.

“We’ve got three games. We win out and we finish top of the West again. (It would be) three times in four years,” Russell said. “That was the aim at the start of the year. That hasn’t changed at any point. It’s in our hands. It’s up to us.”

The Scot has now scored 10 goals in his last eight games and continues to increase his lead in the most consecutive games with a goal in franchise history.

“This is what I saw when I was looking at him to bring him here,” manager Peter Vermes said. “With the way that we play, it’s always an emphasis to have wingers that try to get isolated.”

Russell, the highest scoring Scot in MLS history, was in his usual spot wreaking havoc on the right wing when a bit of skill from midfielder Gadi Kinda and a dummy from forward Khiry Shelton led to a perfectly placed ball at his feet.

The Sporting KC captain rifled a right-footed shot past the Galaxy’s Jonathan Bond for his first of the night and 13th of the season in the 40th minute.

In the second half, the duo found the same result in the 82nd minute giving Russell his 14th goal of the season and completing a brace to give Sporting KC the lead on tiebreakers against Seattle in the standings.

“He was a monster tonight. Johnny has that it factor. He shows up in the big moments. He’s mentally tough. He gives everything he has all the time,” Vermes said. “When he did that slide tackle with his knees to block the ball that goes out of bounds, he’s just doing everything that he can to win. He just has a great mentality. It’s infectious for the rest of the guys on the team and it’s one of the big reasons why he’s the captain.”

Although Mexican striker Javier “Chicharito” Hernández did not make the trip to Kansas City, the Galaxy did force two saves out of 20-year-old goalkeeper John Pulskamp.

The MLS Disciplinary Committee handed down a one-game suspension on starting goalkeeper Tim Melia for his take down of forward Cristian Roldan over the weekend against Seattle.

Pulskamp spent a part of his youth career in the LA Galaxy academy and recorded his first career clean sheet against his former club.

“There’s no other team I’d rather have this type of performance against. To get my first MLS clean sheet against the team that I had played for and come up through their youth system makes it all that much sweeter,” Pulskamp said. “I am appreciative of the Galaxy for everything that they gave me but I’m very happy I ended up at Sporting.”

Vermes was impressed with Pulskamp’s composure against a good opponent, in not ideal weather, and on such short notice.

“We had a little talk yesterday about a couple of little situations and he made the right decision every single time which was tremendous,” Vermes said. “I give him a lot of credit. It’s not easy to get a clean sheet, especially this time of the year. For him to do that at his age in this situation was tremendous.”

The win now secures an MLS Cup playoff game that will take place in Kansas City. With three games left, they have the opportunity to win the west and have home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.

“If we go out and win our games, that’s it. No one else has a say in it,” Russell said.

Sporting KC now travels to Allianz Field to pay a visit to Minnesota United on Sunday at 12 p.m. on ESPN.

Kansas City lost to Minnesota in last year’s conference semifinals 3-0 at home.

The matchup will be the third time the teams meet this season. Sporting KC tied the Loons in a scoreless draw on Aug. 21, but defeated them 4-0 on Sept. 15.

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