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Sporting KC isn’t scoring enough goals. Can Russell, Pulido and Salloi step it up?

After 10 winless matches and seven straight losses, it’s clear that Sporting Kansas City is in desperate need of a spark.

On paper, the hole this team has dug for itself looks awfully familiar.

A year ago, Sporting KC failed to win a Major League Soccer match during a miserable 10-game stretch that included seven losses and three ties.

Sporting KC’s most recent 10 games this year have produced two draws and eight losses. That places Kansas City in last place in the MLS Western Conference with a record of 2-9-5.

The poor results of 2023 were logically linked to the slow (but ultimately successful) return to health and form of several of Sporting KC’s top players. That hasn’t been the case this year.

The team is relatively healthy. After a decent start, Sporting KC just seems to have lost its form and is now searching for a way back.

Toward that end, who better to light a fire than the crew that re-started things last year — front-line stalwats Johnny Russell, Alan Pulido, and Daniel Salloi — right? In 2023, that front three had 44 goal contributions (goals plus assists), with 41 over the final 28 games of the season.

So far in 2024, however, that group has contributed just six goals through 16 MLS games.

Pulido, Salloi, and Russell haven’t started the past two MLS contests. The club’s matchday lineup underwent a significant overhaul ahead of last week’s 2-1 loss to Vancouver: Russell, Salloi and Pulido were brought on in the second half, with KC trailing by just one goal.

Yet even with those stars on the pitch, the only second-half shot taken by Sporting KC was the one that produced a goal. And none of those three was involved in that shot: Khiry Shelton and Marinos Tzinois combined on the effort.

That prompted manager Peter Vermes to say he didn’t “think we created enough chances with those guys (Pulido, Russell, Salloi) in the game.”

Coming off the bench again last week, Russell, the team captain, scored on a nifty move: a dribble through multiple defenders and a left-footed shot past the keeper. Vermes said not starting the stars was “a coach’s decision” and praised their efforts as they joined the action.

“I think when the guys came in off the bench, they tried to give everything they had,” Vermes said. “There was no doubt that the effort was very good. I don’t necessarily know that in the last game we got that effort. But in this game, we for sure got that effort.”

A lack of goals is only part of the problem this season. But to take a page from last year, many of Sporting KC’s defensive woes seem to clean themselves up when members of the front three (and midfield) are firing on all cylinders.

As last season progressed, Sporting KC was better in possession. That, plus renewed confidence and form, helped Vermes’ squad post the league’s best record over the final 28 games of the season. A deep postseason run followed. And this year’s club is mostly the same group.

After a few days off — mandated by MLS’ collective-bargaining agreement after a stretch of five games in 15 days — Sporting KC reconvened Wednesday. On the docket this weekend?

A home match Saturday (7:30 p.m.) against the Seattle Sounders. And for Vermes, this looks like a perfect chance for his club to begin another turnaround.

“Everybody’s form has to come into play at some point,” Vermes said. “It’s not just individuals, but it’s (the) team collective, right? How we play, how we win together, that type of thing. So we need that, for sure.”