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‘Bend It Like Beckham’ is known around the soccer world.
‘Bend It Like Russell’ might become a saying before too long in Kansas City.
For the second time in two games, Sporting Kansas City captain Johnny Russell sent a wicked and pivotal free kick toward goal in KC’s 3-1 road win over the Seattle Sounders Sunday night at Lumen Field.
His free kick Wednesday hit the woodwork before Daniel Salloi turned home the rebound for a late equalizer. This time, Russell’s curling free kick found the inside of the post and bounced straight into the back of Seattle’s net to open the scoring.
Salloi scored in his second straight game to round out the first half and Overland Park native Cam Duke scored his first Major League Soccer goal in the 72nd minute. Fredy Montero scored Seattle’s sole goal early in the second half.
“It’s a massive result for us,” Russell said. “They’re a great side and up at the top for a reason, but so are we.”
Seattle entered the weekend giving all the indications it would eke out at least a point against Sporting in a battle between the top two teams in the Western Conference. The Sounders’ 32 points through 15 games is the best start in MLS history and Seattle’s nine goals conceded was marked a league low.
Seattle was also undefeated in 18 straight home games dating to last season.
What Seattle wasn’t prepared for was the best road team in MLS since the start of the 2020 season. Including Sunday’s win at Seattle, Kansas City has earned 29 points on the road since the start of last season.
Like many teams facing Seattle this season, Sporting KC controlled possession throughout the first half. Seattle holds one of the lowest possession percentages in the league, but it’s by design as the Sounders are happy to sit back and rely on stout defense with flurries of aggressive attacks.
But that stout defense wasn’t quite as solid on Sunday as Kansas City pressed high up the field for prolonged periods. Through the first 15 games of the season, Seattle had conceded just two first-half goals. KC matched that by intermission.
“That was something that we worked on coming into the game,” Russell said. “We didn’t have a lot of time and a quick turnaround after midweek, but we said we are the best when we high press.”
It started with Russell’s free kick on the half-hour mark when KC’s captain was hacked from behind by Seattle’s Danny Leyva. Russell and Graham Zusi stood in front of the dead ball before Russell took a quick run-up and whipped the ball past Seattle’s five-man wall and off the inside of the post.
“(The) keeper stood a little bit more central in his goal than I thought, and it was really difficult to get up and down over the wall from that distance,” Russell said. “So usually I always go that side, and he left it a little bit open for me. I got enough power on it and perfect placement.”
The goal was Russell’s fourth in five games against Seattle.
Salloi doubled the lead 11 minutes later on a quick counterattack off a Seattle corner.
What looked to be a safe moment for Seattle turned quickly into a disaster as a Sounders pass was blocked by Gadi Kinda on the halfway line. Khiry Shelton collected the loose ball and ran into open space before switching the ball back across the box for Salloi to smash home for his ninth goal of the season.
A flurry of Seattle attacks gave the home team some hope in the 51st minute after a moment of pinball in the box allowed Montero to slide one home into an empty net. Melia made up for that a few minutes later with a fingertip save on a shot by league-leading goalscorer Raul Ruidiaz.
The increased pressure from Seattle forced Kansas City into a rare double-six pivot with Remi Walter and Ilie Sanchez, leaving substitute Duke as the sole attack-minded midfielder in the final 25 minutes of the game.
“It was good,” Sporting KC coach Peter Vermes said of the double-six. “I just think that the guys finished off strong, they really possessed the ball a lot better today.”
With the double-six working so well, Duke also didn’t mind being isolated in the No. 10 role. Three minutes after subbing in, the Homegrown latched onto a lobbed cross from Zusi and volleyed it past Seattle goalkeeper Stefan Cleveland.
“Definitely you’re a lot more isolated, just being by yourself,” Duke said. “But I just try to do what I usually do: get on the ball, go at the defense, and fortunately we were able to do well in that formation.”
With three goals Sunday, KC has scored a quarter of all goals scored against Seattle this season.
The win puts Kansas City just two points behind Seattle in the West with a game in hand and three points behind the New England Revolution in the Supporters Shield standings with a game in hand.
“We’re still points behind, they’re still points ahead,” Vermes said. “We’ve got to keep trying to gather as many points as we can as we move through the season here.”