One healthy player is all Sporting Kansas City needed to defeat the Sounders.
Midfielder Johnny Russell has been one of two mainstays in the SKC lineup this season as the team has been riddled with injuries. For the match against Seattle at its Children’s Mercy Park in Kansas City, Kan., on Sunday, SKC had 10 players out due to injuries and its leading goal-scorer serving a one-game suspension.
It didn’t matter, even against a healthier and more rested Sounders.
Russell carved up Seattle’s defense for a hat trick in Sporting KC’s eventual 3-2 victory. It’s Russell’s second hat trick in his two MLS seasons.
“It was essentially the same goal, every goal,” said Sounders midfielder Cristian Roldan via audio provided by MLS. “That’s the most disappointing part because our game plan was to shut down Russell and all of a sudden he scores a hat trick.”
Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer switched his tactic back to an offensive attack after playing more defensively in a road draw at Philadelphia last week. Yet, it was Kansas City (3-4-5) that was pressuring Seattle to start the match Sunday.
Keeper Stefan Frei had two key saves in the opening four minutes for Seattle. Russell found his first goal outside the penalty box in the 29th minute off an assist from Yohan Croizet. The latter started in place of Krisztian Nemeth, who served a suspension from a red card in a draw against Vancouver last week.
Russell’s second goal was even more impressive in cutting right through the Sounders’ defense to knife the ball between Frei and Roman Torres to score in first-half stoppage time.
“The first half killed us mentally and physically,” Roldan said.
Sounders defender Kelvin Leerdam was able to spin away from a defender and get a cross to Raul Ruidiaz for a goal with SKC keeper Tim Melia out of the box in the 63rd minute. It closed the gap to 2-1.
But Russell cut the celebration short with his third goal, waiting patiently behind Seattle’s defense for a left-footed shot that cut through the sliver of space between Frei and the far post. Roldan faulted himself for a sloppy giveaway that helped create Russell’s score.
“Hopefully the next time we can establish some possession better because if you’re chasing the ball, it’s going to be tough,” Leerdam said via audio provided by MLS. “In the first half, we chased it too much and it cost us two goals. …We gave the ball away way too easy.”
Leerdam headed in a goal off a set piece for Seattle in the 71st minute. The Sounders (7-2-5) just couldn’t find another chance to avoid suffering its first defeat since April against MLS-leading Los Angeles FC.
Kansas City’s victory was its first since March 30.
“We got rewarded a couple of times for their (Nico Lodeiro and Ruidiaz) effort,” Schmetzer said, via audio provided by MLS, of the late second-half play. “It was just a shame that we couldn’t find that one last piece of quality to even the score.”
Seattle traveled without winger Victor Rodriguez and Jordan Morris due to hamstring injuries. It did play new arrival Xavier Arreaga due to an injury Kim Kee-hee suffered in the 38th minute. An early evaluation showed lateral knee pain for Kim and he will be re-evaluated when the team returns to Seattle.
Arreaga, an Ecuadorian defender who arrived in Seattle on Wednesday, needs to adapt to the physical style in MLS but connected his passes and looked comfortable along the Sounders’ back line.
“It was a bit complicated,” said Arreaga through an interpreter via audio provided by MLS of how he felt making his debut mid-match. “My desire to be with the team and the desire to help the team is what helped me to finish the game. It’s a very competitive league. It gives me a good feeling to be here because I think it’s going to help me grow as a soccer player.”
The Sounders play at Dallas on Saturday. Seattle will be without its captain, Lodeiro, due to a one-game suspension for yellow-card accumulation. He was shown one in the 60th minute against SKC, his fifth of the season.
“Life happens,” Schmetzer said in response to being without Lodeiro. “We’ll have Rodriguez back by then.”