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Ending the MLS regular season with three straight wins saw Sporting Kansas City top the Western Conference. This gives them a home MLS Cup semi-final next week.

Picking up form at the right time, a player that help SKC to the final is Johnny Russell. The former Derby player has had a stellar debut season with the club and in this tactical analysis, I aim to tell you why he’ll have an important part to play in the semi-final.

Firstly, it’s important to note that SKC play a 4-3-3 with Russell on the right wing. Being left-footed, however, his job is to be dangerous inside the box. That saw him score ten and assist seven goals across the MLS regular season. However, what more important is the variety in the way Russell goes about this.


Knockout games tend to be very tense affairs. With this in mind, the desire Russell shows can help SKC massively to come out on top in the semi-finals. What we see as desire can be hard to judge, however. So here’s an example against the Whitecaps that shows just how this can be the difference for Russell and SKC:

Johnny Russell Sporting Kansas City MLS Cup Tactical Analysis
Into the dying seconds of the game, SKC play the ball long up the pitch. Rather than letting it go, Russell chases down the lost cause.
Johnny Russell Sporting Kansas City MLS Cup Tactical Analysis
This surprises the defender, who Russell outmuscles, wins the ball off and heads towards the box.

Even though this may not be seen as something major, it could help his side massively. With that high pressing late on, he can begin attacks with the opposing defence out of shape.

This also plays into another aspect of his game that makes him so dangerous for SKC.


As a left-footed player on the right wing, his directness causes havoc for defences. With his aim always to get in and around the box, it is often hard to stop him when he sets his head to this aim.

His speed and close control makes it increasingly hard for defenders to pinch the ball off him. This can be seen below, late on against LA Galaxy:

Johnny Russell Sporting Kansas City MLS Cup Tactical Analysis
Coming in off the wing, the defenders are cautious in engaging Russell. Seeing this, he drops his shoulder and bursts through the gap between them.
Johnny Russell Sporting Kansas City MLS Cup Tactical Analysis
Despite still being at full-tilt, Russell is able to identify the space he wants to exploit. He’s able to get into the box and glide into space, losing markers in the process.
Johnny Russell Sporting Kansas City MLS Cup Tactical Analysis
Now in that space, Russell has time and space to pick his spot. He does so and equalises for SKC late on.

Against tired legs, this can be a great tool going forward. Defenders usually have a hard time facing direct runners but what Russell offers is different. He’s able to last until the dying seconds of matches and knows how and where to move into to hurt teams.

This can also be seen in his game as he doesn’t just stay hugging the touchline waiting for the ball.


Although he’s very dangerous with the ball at his feet, what he does off the ball is as important. He’s been given the freedom to roam from the right wing which adds another dimension to the SKC attack.

Yet again, this highlight comes from within the final ten minutes of the game against Dallas. Further showcasing his durability. But here is how his movement can kill whoever they face off in the play-offs:

Johnny Russell Sporting Kansas City MLS Cup Tactical Analysis
Coming off the right wing, this catches the Dallas defence off-guard. Russell is already a step ahead in his run and the ball is played in behind for him to chase.
Johnny Russell Sporting Kansas City MLS Cup Tactical Analysis
SKC take advantage of the tired defence as its hard for them to retreat at this point in the game. Russell is able to reach the ball without much trouble. Daniel Salloi is joining him in the box.
Johnny Russell Sporting Kansas City MLS Cup Tactical Analysis
Russell squares the ball to Salloi who is brought down by the desperate Dallas defender. Russell then scores the penalty.

Pouncing when the time is right, Russell picks his moments extremely well. Showing throughout this piece that he is able to play at a high level for 90 minutes is also a great bonus for his side.


Salloi, SKC’s left winger, as also been impressing recently with his form. His four goals in three games helped them top the Western Conference, but the threat of himself and Russell should encourage SKC fans greatly.

Overall, however, the threat of Johnny Russell shouldn’t go ignored. The variety and persistence in his game makes him a great weapon for SKC and will make him a hard man to mark come semi-final day.