Major League Soccer

Johnny Russell coming up clutch just when Sporting Kansas City need him

Chris Smith
Russell has scored in a club-record seven consecutive MLS appearances.
Russell has scored in a club-record seven consecutive MLS appearances. / Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

In a league decided by playoffs, saving your best form for the end of the season is critical.

Few have timed their peak better this season than Sporting Kansas City forward Johnny Russell, who netted in his seventh consecutive MLS game to deliver a 2-1 win over the Seattle Sounders on Saturday.

After failing to find the net in his opening 11 games, the Scottish forward now has 12 in his last 16. His current seven-game hot streak is a club record.

The execution of his winner against the Sounders - who are now just three points ahead of SKC at the top of the Western Conference standings - was impressive enough, needing just one touch to set himself before coolly finishing off a flowing Kansas City move.

But more remarkable is the fact Russell hit the net with SKC's only shot of the second half. Moreover, the 31-year-old's eight goals in his current seven-game scoring run have come from just 17 shots at a staggering success rate of 47%.

"You only need one shot," Russell said of his latest goal. On the team as a whole, he added: "We've shown time and time again this year how mentally strong we are and how resolute we are. I thought our shape was great and difficult to break down. We've always got the quality to hit teams whether it be on the counter or whether it be in possession. We're a dangerous team that scores goals."

More than a goalscorer, Russell is among the most dynamic forwards in MLS. Both he and SKC as a franchise are criminally underrated.

“We loved that he was just so dangerous with his ability to single-handily have an impact and change the game," Vermes said of his first impressions of Russell almost four years ago at a recent press conference. "He could eliminate defenders off the dribble. Everybody thinks there’s a lot of guys who can do it, but it’s a skill, it’s an art. Those two things were eye-catching.”

Indeed, no player in Vermes' team has completed more dribbles (66), while Russell is second only to Daniel Salloi for assists (6) and chances created (38). He's consistently delivered in every single area that made him such an attractive prospect to SKC during his Derby County days.

There are far bigger names among MLS' Designated Player pool. Chicharito, Gonzalo Higuain and Carlos Vela, just to name a few.

But there aren't many as talismanic or ruthlessly effective as Russell is for SKC.

The MLS Cup Playoffs are just a few weeks away. Post-season success is one of the few remaining things in his time at SKC to elude Russell, who is yet to score a playoff goal.

But Russell has already come up clutch in big games this season. Aside from his three goals against the Sounders, his rap sheet also includes the likes of the Colorado Rapids, LA Galaxy and Minnesota United.

In this sort of form, few defenders in MLS can stop Russell who has saved his very best for last this season, right when SKC need him most.