Johnny Russell walked along the north end line at Children’s Mercy Park, within close proximity of the Cauldron’s celebration. Eventually, Benny Feilhaber leveraged his way onto Russell’s shoulders, propping his own body into the air.
And so for a second or two, there was Russell, quite literally carrying a member of Sporting Kansas City on his back.
Russell scored his second career hat trick Sunday, busting Sporting Kansas City out of its slump with nail-biting 3-2 victory against visiting Seattle.
“He was different class today,” Sporting coach Peter Vermes said.
“He was unbelievable,” midfielder Ilie Sanchez said.
“He has qualities that you can’t teach,” captain Matt Besler said. “They were on display today.”
And what better time?
Sporting KC (3-4-5) won for the first time since March 30, a stretch of nine matches, seven of them in league play, that had spiraled the club to a tie for second-to-last in the Western Conference standings.
Russell triggered the streak’s conclusion. At least on the scoresheet. He is only the second Sporting KC player to record two hat tricks with the club, Eddie Johnson being the other.
As Russell stepped into the locker room after the game, striker Krisztian Nemeth greeted him by pouring cold water over his head. Just as he was wiping his face, Russell looked up and saw what was coming — the remainder of the team ready to do the same.
“Freezing cold water,” he said. “But it felt great.”
Sporting needed every last one of his tallies. Seattle twice trimmed a two-goal advantage to one — Raul Ruidiaz in the 63rd and Kelvin Leerdam in the 71st — and it nearly grabbed the equalizer before Tim Melia went all backyard goalkeeper to prevent it. A week after Sporting conceded a game-tying goal in stoppage time, Melia had another shot squeeze between his legs in extra time but turned around to grab it before it crossed the goal line.
The remainder of the game’s highlights will fall to Russell. And the second goal was precisely that — a highlight. At one point, the freeze frame displayed four Seattle defenders forming a bubble around Russell. He faked a pass to fool a pair of them, then caught the others on their heels, retreating as he directed a ball to the far post.
The hat track arrived in the 68th minute, yet another sent to the far post after he received a pass from Kelyn Rowe. He had opened in the 29th minute, slotting his left-footed shot along the grass. Yohan Croizet, starting at center forward, got assists on two of the goals.
“I found a little bit of space that I haven’t been finding recently,” Russell said. “Teams have been making it difficult for me to find that space. For whatever reason, maybe a little change in formation with Yohan playing the false nine (and) dropping deeper, it gave me a little bit of space to exploit.”
For the first time this year, Sporting played without Nemeth, its leading scorer. He was ejected during the draw against Vancouver, prompting a one-game suspension. With backup strikers Erik Hurtado (knee) and Daniel Salloi (groin) also out, Sporting moved Croizet to the top of the formation in the false-nine setting. Croizet has started at four different positions this season.
After the game, Besler told Croizet in the locker room he would have been his selection for man of the match.
Well, with one caveat. “If it wasn’t for Johnny scoring three goals.”