The success of Sporting Kansas City’s offseason was always going to be evaluated on its ability to improve an offense that sputtered down the stretch of 2017.
The club added the second piece of that potential solution Monday, though it’s not necessarily the final piece.
Sporting KC acquired Scottish forward Johnny Russell in a transfer deal from Derby County FC of the English Football League Championship, sources told The Star. Sporting KC agreed to a four-year contract with Russell, pending a physical and receipt of his International Transfer Certificate and P-1 Visa.
Russell, 27, can play anywhere along the front line or as an underneath forward, but he primarily spots as a left or right winger. He has scored 94 goals in his 11-year career, including four this season for Derby County, which is in second place in the English Championship, putting them in line for promotion to the English Premier League.
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Derby manager Gary Rowett told reporters that Russell turned down a contract extension, expressing his desire for a move to MLS. His current deal was set to expire this summer.
With Sporting KC, Russell will not initially count as of three allowed designated players on the roster. The club will use targeted allocation money to buy down his salary, sources said. He could potentially reach designated player status next season.
He will further Sporting Kansas City’s plans to revamp an attack that accounted for 40 goals in 34 MLS games. Earlier this offseason, the team signed attacking midfielder Yohan Croizet to a designated player contract.
The acquisition of Russell will not preclude Sporting KC from making additional moves this offseason. Coach Peter Vermes has frequently said the team is “always looking for ways to improve our roster,” and sources told The Star that includes prolonging the search for a pure striker. Russell can play central forward, but the club views him as spending the bulk of his time on the wing.
Sporting KC has offered contracts to multiple strikers this winter but has not reached a transfer agreement. The team is still hunting for a proven goal scorer and hopes to close in on a target as early as this week, but nothing is certain.
It began preseason training camp in Scottsdale, Ariz., last week, pressing the deadline for an acquisition. While Sporting KC could wait until the summer transfer window to spend its surplus of allocation money, it has a preference to firm up the roster before the season opener on March 4.
The paperwork for Russell will likely be completed in the coming days. Earlier this offseason, Vermes said he would not be as concerned about players missing part of the preseason if they were arriving from Europe and therefore in the middle of their playing seasons.
Russell, who was born in Scotland and made his professional debut there at age 17, has played in 23 matches this season. After moving to Derby County five years ago, he has been mostly a regular in the lineup, scoring 34 times in 203 appearances across all competitions.
Sporting Kansas City’s current wingers include Gerso Fernandes, Daniel Salloi, Khiry Shelton and Kharlton Belmar.