KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Sporting Kansas City forward Johnny Russell was chosen Monday as the MLS Player of the Matchday for his Decision Day brace.
Russell scored two goals 50 minutes apart in Sporting KC’s 3-1 win Saturday against Minnesota United FC, a victory that propelled the club up two spots in the Western Conference standings as the season came to an end.
"He is a true captain in the sense that he is an incredible example for the rest of the guys," Manager Peter Vermes said Saturday during the postgame press conference. "I remember when I first was scouting Johnny, and the one thing I always thought is that he had the it factor and that is for the big games because he’s got big balls and he’s going to step up, simple as can be. He was big-time tonight. I can’t say enough.”
It’s the fourth career Player of the Matchday honor for Russell — which ranks fourth in club history behind Josh Wolff (six), Preki (five) and Chris Kelin (five).
With the victory, Sporting KC finished eighth in the Western Conference and will host the San Jose Earthquakes at 8:30 p.m. Wednesday in the wild-card round of the 2023 Audi MLS Cup Playoffs.
Russell finished the season with eight goals, a benchmark he’s now reached in five of six MLS seasons. He joined Preki and Dom Dwyer as the only SKC players with three straight seasons of at least eight goals.
Russell also has seven multi-goal games, which ties Preki for third-most in Sporting KC history.
After starting the season 0-7-3, Sporting KC became the first team in MLS history to reach the playoffs after collecting fewer than five points in the first 10 games of the season.
Vermes’ squad finished the season 12-7-5 after the sluggish start and finished 2023 with a 9-6-2 home record.
"With the team that we've got, you can never count us out," Russell said Saturday after clinching a playoff berth. "No one wants to start the season the way we did, but the way we've turned it around, it takes a strong group to do that. … Now we have to show that same resilience that we've shown to get to this point and try and make a push."
Sporting KC (12-14-8), which is 16-1-3 in the last 20 home matches against the Quakes, lost 3-0 at San Jose during its April swoon but returned the favor with a 3-0 win in August at Children’s Mercy Park.
The Quakes limped to the end of the season with six draws in the final two months, finishing 1-1-6 during that span and 1-3-6 in their final 10 games.
Meanwhile, Sporting KC is 6-3-0 overall since the end of the Leagues Cup in early August and 6-2-1 at home since the start of July.