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Russell Hat-Trick Leads Sporting to 3-2 Win over Seattle

May 26, 2019 - Major League Soccer (MLS) - Sporting Kansas City News Release

Johnny Russell's sensational hat-trick lifted Sporting Kansas City to a 3-2 win over Seattle Sounders FC in an absorbing five-goal thriller on Sunday night at Children's Mercy Park.

The Scottish forward became the second player in club history to record multiple regular-season hat-tricks in a Kansas City uniform, striking twice in the first half and slotting home the 68th-minute winner as Sporting (3-4-5, 14 points) secured their first victory since March 30 and snapped second-place Seattle's six-game unbeaten streak in a Western Conference clash that entertained from beginning to end before a nationally televised audience on FS1.

Manager Peter Vermes' side entered Sunday winless in seven straight league matches, but a spirited performance against the in-form Sounders (7-2-5, 26 points) yielded an invaluable triumph for the hosts, who climb within four points of the seventh and final playoff spot with multiple games in hand on several of their conference rivals. Seattle nearly salvaged a point behind Raul Ruidiaz and Kelvin Leerdam's goals midway through the second period, only for their late rally to fall short in the warm Kansas City sunshine.

Yohan Croizet, who recorded two assists in the center forward position, represented the lone lineup change from last Saturday's 1-1 home draw with Vancouver Whitecaps FC. The Frenchman replaced Sporting's leading scorer Krisztian Nemeth, who served a one-game red card suspension and will be available for selection Wednesday when the LA Galaxy visit Children's Mercy Park.

Eager to bounce back into the victory column, Sporting asserted early control as Seattle survived early scares from Russell and Gutierrez, both of whom forced saves from Sounders goalkeeper Stefan Frei within the first three minutes. Home fans felt aggrieved shortly thereafter when Kelyn Rowe flicked the ball up into the midsection of Leerdam, but referee Chris Penso waved away handball protestations inside the box.

Right back Nico Hasler provided the spark that led to Sporting's opening goal in the 29th minute. His clever through ball into the attacking third reached Croizet, who shouldered off a challenge from Brad Smith and teed up Russell just outside the box. The insatiable forward promptly picked out the far left corner from 20 yards to fire his side ahead, also giving Croizet and Hasler their first assists of the campaign.

Seattle remained on the back foot, breathing a sigh of relief when Rowe volleyed over the bar after chasing a pinpoint Matt Besler long ball, and suffered another blow when center back Kim Kee-hee exited injured in the 38th minute. That resulted in an MLS debut for his replacement Xavier Arreaga, who signed for Seattle as a Designated Player earlier this month.

Russell bagged his second on the stroke of intermission, emasculating the Sounders backline in a sensational solo run down the right side. Receiving a pass from Ilie, he weaved through multiple Seattle defenders and rifled low past Frei to bring the Children's Mercy Park faithful to their feet and give Vermes' men a two-goal halftime cushion.

The Sounders gained a foothold after the restart, but not before Sporting almost went agonizingly close in the 54th minute. Croizet's shrewd backwards header fell into the path of Gutierrez, who was unable to pull the trigger under the duress of several converging defenders. Rowe came close to cleaning up the loose ball, and only a last-ditch Arreaga clearance spared Seattle's blushes.

Leerdam did wonderfully to orchestrate Seattle's counter-punch in the 63rd minute, taking a Harry Shipp pass and spinning free into the box. He then cut the ball back to Ruidiaz, who took a steadying touch and hammered high into the roof of the net for his sixth goal of 2019 to make the score 2-1.

Just when the Sounders thought they had seized momentum, Russell landed his third haymaker of the day and entered the Sporting history books. Rowe's layoff pass was perfectly weighted, but Russell still had plenty of work to do as he sent a scorching curler across Frei and into the left corner. His seventh MLS tally of the year tied Nemeth for the team lead and made Russell the second Sporting player-alongside Eddie Johnson in 2007-to net two regular-season hat-tricks for the club, having previously done so in a 6-0 thrashing of Vancouver in April 2018.

Head coach Brian Schmetzer's side wouldn't go away, however, and seconds after Melia produced a brilliant save to deny Shipp in the 70th minute, Seattle cut the deficit to one when Leerdam latched onto Nicolas Lodeiro's corner kick and poked home amidst a goalmouth scramble.

Melia had no intention of conceding an equalizer and delivered heroically in the 74th minute, leaping to get his mitt to Lodeiro's shot and swatting away the rebound before Shipp could get his boot to the ball. The visitors continued to probe in search of a late leveler, and an acrobatic clearance from Besler reaggravated the hamstring issue that had kept him out for most of the previous month. Center back Graham Smith subbed in for the captain on 79 minutes, tasked with shoring up the defense as Seattle continued to push forward.

Children's Mercy Park roared in the 89th minute when Croizet made way for midfielder Jimmy Medranda, who entered as Sporting's final substitute for his first MLS appearance since May 20, 2018. The diminutive Colombian has spent the last 12 months overcoming a knee injury and nearly blew the proverbial roof off the stadium in the 91st minute when his left-footed sledgehammer from distance rattled the woodwork.

Roman Torres offered Seattle's last attempt at an equalizer, and although his low drive from a tight angle slipped through Melia's legs, the goalkeeper recovered to throw his body on top of the loose ball and preserve his side's 3-2 lead.

With three precious points in the bag, Sporting will play for a second successive victory on Wednesday when they meet the third-place Galaxy (8-5-1, 25 points) at 7:30 p.m. CT. Tickets for the match are on sale at SeatGeek.com as Sporting celebrates Soccer For All, signifying that all fans are welcome to the club regardless of race, color, religion, national origin, gender, gender identity, disability, sexual orientation or socioeconomic status. The game will air live on FOX Sports Kansas City Plus, FOX Sports Midwest Plus, Sports Radio 810 WHB and ESPN Deportes KC 1480 AM.

QUOTES Sporting Kansas City Manager Peter Vermes

On the emotions from today's game...

It was a deserving three points first of all. We felt the same way last week. Last week hit us deep in the gut. We talked about it all week that we know that we deserved the three points but we didn't get it done. We needed to find a way. Seattle is a good team; they are on a good roll at the moment. It was big for us to be able to do this-with where we are and trying to get ourselves back out of things and get some guys back on the field and then have a limited number of players. Matt was just fatigued tonight. That's really what it came down to and the reason why he came out. We're bringing guys back from injury and trying to squeeze minutes out of them at a very tough time of the year because the climate is now going to become a factor as well. We were able to fight it out and grind it out and get three points tonight against a really good team.

On improvements from last week...

We thought we should have gotten three points last week. They got the goal and we felt that we could have done some things a little better and we talked about it. It was a good, healthy discussion by the players. They understood and I see that they made the adjustments for this game today, and it was not just physical. It was also the mental aspect as well.

On Johnny Russell's performance...

Johnny has incredible individual talent. We needed it, and it came at a great time. That's what you need from special players like him. It's not when things are going really well and he sticks in three because you're winning 5-0. He was a different class tonight. I always say he is very difficult for teams to deal with and he's like a fireplug. He's tired, then all of a sudden makes another run. He's got it in him. Again, we needed that performance from him tonight.

On how well the team defended their lead...

I don't like the fact that we gave up two goals. I'm probably a little more understanding at the moment, and the reason is because we are dealing with a lot of players coming in that don't have 90 minutes match fitness. At some point you're going to have some moments when you're not at your best. The good thing is that we scored three goals, which changes the game as well and puts Seattle in different positions to play against us. We did what we had to do today to get the win and the three points, and that was a big first step for us going forward.

On Jimmy Medranda's return...

I think it's great because it tells you that the surgery he had, which was a serious surgery, worked. The medical staff did a good job of brining him back and being smart about getting him back on the field. We haven't put him in any situation that would put him at risk, so getting him on the field today was a good first step for him. Obviously the minutes were minimal, but at the same time there aren't a lot of minutes he can get at the moment because he hasn't played many MLS games. It's amazing how he almost scored. He has that ability. The good thing is he's back, and now we just have to keep building him up week to week and make him stronger so that as we get towards the end of the season, he will be a part of the group we can call on to play.

On midfielder Yohan Croizet's performance...

I think Yohan had a really good performance for us today. He worked hard and made it tough on their defenders. He put them under a lot of pressure. He's an explosive guy with a lot of power and speed, and I think they were a little surprised with that piece. He's not somebody you can push off the ball. He's a strong guy. I think he helped us even though that's not his position to play, but I thought he did a really good job for us in that position.

On having so many injured players...

We have to use everything we have. I'm not very happy with the fact that we played on a Sunday and the team we will play against didn't play on Saturday, they played on Friday. So (LA Galaxy) got those days of rest. In these situations, there has to be a little more of a competitive balance. We're going to come off of two days rest. It'll be hard, but we don't have anything else to do right now. We'll find a way and we'll get recovered. We use all the things that we have at our training facility and we'll be ready to give everything we have on Wednesday night.

Sporting Kansas City forward Johnny Russell

On his hat trick...

I just found a lot of space that I hadn't really been finding in the previous games. My teammates found me, as well. My finishing, it didn't let me down today. It's a great today for us. We've been on a tough run. Everyone knows that. We would have taken a win any way it came. To win it in the way we did with our backs to the wall a little bit - same as the Vancouver game but holding out this time - it's a perfect day for us.

On the team's victory...

We've needed it. You can tell the games that we've played, things aren't going right. Things we're normally good at it, we're not doing (well). To put it all together today (while we're) still missing a lot of guys -- everyone that came in was brilliant - makes it a massive win and one that's long overdue, as well.

On the play of Yohan Croizet...

Losing (Krisztian) Nemeth was a big loss, especially the way he plays for us. Yohan (Croizet) stepped in and was brilliant today -- his hold up play, the runs he made, the space he created. He ran himself into the ground. It was a great performance from him.

On gaining some momentum...

I hope so. We said before the game, it's been far too long that we haven't won a game. 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 and we've lost a lot of players, but we still feel that we've got a squad capable of going and winning games. Today was nice, especially after not winning for so long.

On the support from the fans...

It just goes to show how much they love the team here. They've been great with us. There's a lot of places if you go through the sort of run we've been through, the fans will turn on you. They've been behind us every step of the way. No matter the result, they stay in their numbers. This win is for them as much it is for us, as well.

Sporting Kansas City defender Matt Besler

On Johnny Russell's performance:

"I actually told Yohan (Croizet) after the game that, for me, he'd be the man of the match if it wasn't for Johnny scoring three goals, just because I was proud of the way that he worked. He's a guy that's played in a ton of different positions, the number nine position is probably not his natural spot and it requires a lot of work from him and he's a guy that hasn't played consistently for 90 minutes so for him to go as long as he did, he was huge for us. Johnny is a difference maker, he has qualities that you can't teach and they were on display today so I'm glad that he was on our team today."

On catching Seattle by surprise with a fast start:

"I think between us and Seattle, we always have mutual respect for the way we play and compete against each other and the quality that both teams have. That'd be a question for them. But in my opinion, I didn't see it that way or I wasn't expecting that."

On playing the LA Galaxy on Wednesday with two days less rest than their opponent:

"It's unfair. There's no doubt about it. We're at a disadvantage because of the schedule, but look, we can't change it. We have to deal with it and it's our job to go out and play multiple games in a week so we have to be professional and smart about the way we recover, and that starts right now. We'll enjoy the win in the locker room but I guarantee after this we're going to start focusing on getting our bodies ready because Wednesday's another big game."

Seattle Sounders FC head coach Brian Schmetzer

Thoughts on the match...

I'll give credit to their team. (Johnny) Russell showed his class. I certainly think we could have done a better job defending him because that was one of the players we did highlight. When players make plays, you've got to give them credit. That obviously put us in a hole. Taking that second goal shortly before halftime was not what we had drawn up. (Our) team in their never quits. They never stop fighting. They found a way to get into it at 2-1. Another Russell goal, you go to 3-2 and then all of a sudden you get a couple of other real clean chances and it could have been 3-3.

On his team's scoring chances...

I'm not so sure they were easy giveaways. It was our pressure. We needed to because we were down. We needed to go press higher up the field. The effort that Nico (Lodeiro) and Raul (Ruidiaz) were putting on them when we push Brad (Smith) and Harry (Shipp) up a little higher and play basically 1-for-1, we got rewarded up a couple times for their effort. It was just a shame we couldn't find that last piece of quality to even the score.

On the debut of Xavier Arreaga...

(Xavier) Arreaga was good. You saw what he brings. He'll need to learn the physicality of our league. On the ball, he was very steady and a calming influence back there. (He was) able to connect passes from that position - passes forward. I liked what I saw.

On missing Nicolas Lodeiro due to caution accumulation suspension in the team's next match...

Life happens. Next man steps up. We'll have (Victor) Rodriguez back by then.

On his team's performance...

The reason why the game got away from us was because of our possession. We would defend, defend, defend and then we would give the ball away and have to defend again. Our guys had heavy legs. That's why, maybe, some of those goals happened. We can not win games in MLS away from home without establishing some form of possession in the first half of games. At CenturyLink with our fans (and) the atmosphere, (as) the home team you press, you go and it's 90 miles an hour. Sometimes (in) away games, we need to be a little more patient and get out of that cycle of defend, defend, defend; win the ball back and give it away. That was the downfall for us today. They found a way to come back. I thought our possession in the second half was much better. That was part of the reason why we got a couple goals.

Seattle Sounders FC defender Xavier Arreaga

On making his Sounders debut...

I'm happy to have debuted for the team and at the same time sad because of the result. We have to turn the page. We have another important game coming up and we have to prepare ourselves.

On coming in off the bench...

It's a bit complicated (with) the magnitude of the game (and) the way the game was. The desire to be with the team and the desire to help the team is what helped me finish the game.

On gaining league experience...

We have a competitive league. (It's) a league that demands a lot of you and it gives me a good feeling to be here. I think it's going to help me grow as a soccer player.

Seattle Sounders FC midfielder Cristian Roldan

On the Sporting KC goal right before halftime...

Going into halftime at 1-0, it's tough obviously but it's tolerable. You can deal with it. You can come back. If you score a goal, you're right back in it. At 2-1, we felt like we were right back in it but in the end, we gave up another goal after a sloppy giveaway by me. Credit to the guys for responding really fast, but if we don't concede that second goal, we give ourselves a better chance at equalizing and ultimately winning the game.

On the frustration from this match...

I think it's the goals that we gave up. The first one (by) losing the ball in the middle of the field, (it's) a direct counter attack -- essentially the same goal every goal and I think that's the most disappointing. Our game plan was to shut down (Johnny) Russell and all of a sudden he scores a hat trick. It's always tough to come down here and concede three goals and try to win the game but credit to the guys for responding in the second half and really putting pressure on Kansas City.

On the team's possession throughout the game...

Initially our press was not the best. When you exhaust so much energy going into trying to win the ball back and all of a sudden you win the ball back and you're in a tough spot, Kansas City does a really good job of repressing. They made things difficult once we won the ball. In the second half, I felt like we won the ball in better spots in their half and we were able to play a little more because they weren't able to press us as easily. (In the) first half, (the) first 30 minutes killed us mentally and physically. Obviously giving up an early goal and the second one leading up to halftime made things a lot more difficult for us.

On Xavier Arreaga's performance off the bench...

I thought he was excellent. He's composed on the ball was able to play out of the back. He gave us a little bit of that pause that we needed (and) a little bit of that composure in the back. He was lights out both defensively, but especially on the ball he gave us that extra edge to maintain possession. Especially in the second half when things got a little difficult and people were tired, he was able to dribble out of the back. Xavier is an excellent player and we're looking forward to having him.

On losing captain Nicolás Lodeiro for the next match...

That makes things a little more difficult with Nico being out. We have a tough stretch. Four road games in a row is always difficult and we're going into Dallas, who has struggled a little bit and they're an eager team that wants to get a result. Not having Nico is going to be tough. In the end that's why we have a full roster and hopefully we can at least have a guy to rely on. Obviously, Nico does so much for the team and is going to be hard to replace but having another guy that will do the job is just fine.


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