A television in Derby, England was locked on American soccer for the better part of a year, with Johnny Russell sitting on his living room couch, pondering his inclusion. His English club was prime for a promotion to the Premier League, but there was something about MLS that drew his wonderment. “How might I fit in?” he would later describe it.
In six weeks, the answer has been convincing.
During a progression in which Russell has taken Children’s Mercy Park by storm, he found his signature moment Friday.
Russell recorded the eighth hat trick in Sporting KC history, lifting his club to a 6-0 annihilation of an overmatched and eventually undermanned Vancouver team.
“That’s on the coaching staff and players here,” Russell said. “They gave me that belief back in myself that I’ve been missing for awhile.”
Sporting KC (5-1-2) equaled its largest margin of victory in club history. It has never scored more goals in a match. At one point, the stadium chose to stop unleashing its celebratory confetti after goals, hoping to give its grounds crew a break.
As Russell walked off the field after being subbed out in the second half, a sold-out Children’s Mercy Park crowd offered a standing ovation. It chanted his name during play and reacted to his nearly every touch. “That was pretty cool,” he said.
He scored three; he drew a penalty kick; and he prompted a pair of red cards that left Vancouver to finish the match with only nine men. All in 52 minutes of work.
“He was feeling it,” Sporting KC captain Matt Besler said. “He’s been a huge addition for us.”
Jimmy Medranda, Cristian Lobato and Yohan Croizet also found the net for Sporting KC, which ballooned its lead atop the Western Conference to seven points. It has not lost since opening night, outscoring the past seven opponents 20-9.
Medranda blistered a shot from 25 yards out that bent against the grain. Croizet scored his first career MLS goal. Those would’ve have been more notable in any other match.
But this night belonged to Russell. Two weeks ago, the left-footed attacker — acquired in a transfer deal from Derby County FC in the winter — received the MLS goal of the week honors after splitting a pair of LA Galaxy defenders with a toe poke and finishing the chance.
If that was his arrival, the outing Friday was proof of his staying power. Russell opened the scoring in the 10th minute, his first right-footed goal of the year. But it’s no longer the only. He had another six minutes later, also off his right foot.
The hat trick arrived only three minutes after halftime, a chip of Vancouver keeper Stefan Marinovic. Russell is the first Sporting KC player to record a hat trick since Gerso Fernandes did it last season — also his first MLS campaign. Russell has five goals this year.
“I thought we were extremely aggressive in the final third — that’s what led to the (first) three goals,” coach Peter Vermes said. “It’s a game-changer, for sure. It just opened the game up.”
Medranda pushed the margin to 3-0 before the half-hour mark, slimming Vancouver’s chances for a comeback. An ensuing fracas all but ended them.
After Vancouver captain Kendall Waston tackled Sporting KC midfielder Roger Espinoza, he stood over him and yelled in his direction as Espinoza sat on the grass. Russell sprinted over and two-hand shoved Waston, drawing a yellow card. As the two teams converged, Vancouver right back Efrain Juarez appeared to retaliate and slap Russell in the face before Yordy Reyna pulled Russell to the ground from behind.
Reyna and Juarez were sent to the locker room, leaving Vancouver with only nine men.
“It’s one of those things in (soccer) where you stick up for your teammates,” Russell said. “You never wanna see anyone get sent off, and that was unfortunate, but I’m still gonna stick up for my teammates, just like their players stuck up for them."
Sporting Kansas City 6, Whitecaps 0
VANCOUVER: Stefan Marinovic; Jose Aja, Efrain Juarez, Kendall Waston; Ali Ghazal, Marcel De Jong, Felipe Martins, Brek Shea (Bernie Ibini Isei, 72nd); Anthony Blondell (Sean Franklin, 43rd), Alphonso Davies (Russell Teibert, 55th), Yordy Reyna.
KANSAS CITY: Tim Melia; Emiliano Amor, Matt Besler, Graham Zusi; Yohan Croizet, Roger Espinoza (Felipe Gutierrez, 76th), Jimmy Medranda, Ilie Sanchez; Johnny Russell (Cristian Lobato, 52nd), Daniel Salloi, Khiry Shelton (Diego Rubio, 71st).
Kansas City: 1, Russell, 3 (Espinoza, Zusi), 10th minute. 2, Russell, 4 (Espinoza), 16th. 3, Medranda, 2 (Salloi), 30th. 4, Russell, 5 (Besler), 48th. 5, Lobato, 1, 54th. 6, Croizet, 1 (Sanchez), 77th.
Shots on goal
Vancouver: Waston (unsporting behavior), 36th.
Kansas City: Russell (unsporting behavior), 40th.
Vancouver: Juarez (foul and abusive language), 40th; Reyna (review), 40th.
Kansas City: None.
Referee: Kevin Stott. Assistant referees: Logan Brown, Cameron Blanchard. Fourth official: Nima Saghafi. Video assistant referee: Edvin Jurisevic.