Johnny Russell has acknowledged the importance of Sporting Kansas City responding to their surprise cup exit when they host Austin FC in MLS action on Saturday.

SKC were eliminated from the U.S. Open Cup by Sacramento Republic on penalties at the semi-final stage following a goalless draw at the end of extra time.

It marks the nadir of a poor campaign for Sporting, who have lost three in a row in all competitions and are bottom of the Western Conference standings.

For skipper Russell, the latest defeat was particularly tough to take, but his side have a chance to quickly respond against Austin at Children’s Mercy Park.

“It’s definitely up there with one of the toughest defeats,” he said. “There’s been a few in my time, but this is definitely up there.

“It’s going to be difficult but we know the challenge ahead of us. Most people are probably going to count us out but we can’t think like that.

“This is a really tough one to take but we have to turn it around quickly. We’ve got a massive game at the weekend now. It’s going to take a huge effort to get us into the playoffs.”

Austin are sitting comfortably in second place in the West, but they followed up a 1-1 draw at FC Dallas with a 4-3 home loss against New York Red Bulls in their past two games.

If those results had dented the mood slightly, the signing of Argentine attacker Emiliano Rigoni on a Designated Player contract on Friday went a long way to lifting it again.

Rigoni boasts experience of playing in a number of top divisions, including Serie A, and Austin sporting director Claudio Reyna hailed the coup.

“We’re very excited to welcome Emiliano and his family to Austin,” Reyna said. “He’s a winger with a lot of quality and experience competing in some of the top leagues.

“His abilities are an excellent fit for our style of play.”

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Sporting Kansas City – Khiry Shelton

Sporting are the lowest-scoring team in MLS this season, having found the net just 19 times across their league-high 23 matches. That can be put down to a number of factors, but there is no denying that injury doubt Shelton needs to start contributing more given that he has no goals and only one assist in 18 games.

Austin FC – Sebastian Driussi

Driussi will benefit greatly from reuniting with Rigoni – not that head coach Wolff exactly needs to get more out of the 26-year-old right now. He scored two more goals in last weekend’s loss to NYRB, both from outside the box, and now has 13 for the season – nobody has scored more in MLS this season.

KEY OPTA FACTS

– The three meetings between Sporting Kansas City and Austin in 2021 were split, with each side winning once and drawing once. Both teams scored in all three meetings, including both in Kansas City, where Sporting recorded a win and a draw.

– SKC have lost four straight home matches in regulation time for the first time in the club’s MLS history, following a 2-0 loss to Los Angeles FC last Saturday. Sporting did lose five straight home matches, which included a breakaway shoot-out loss in the fourth match of the streak, from September 1998 to April 1999.

– Austin have collected 23 points on the road this season, tied for most in MLS (Red Bulls). Austin are unbeaten in their past five on the road (W4 D1), which is their longest away unbeaten run in club history and tied for the longest active streak in the league (along with Columbus Crew).

– The 19 goals Sporting have scored after 23 matches are five fewer than they have ever had at this stage of a season before. One one team, Cincinnati in 2020 (12), have had fewer than 19 goals after 23 games over the last nine years.

– Both of Driussi’s goals against the Red Bulls last week were scored from outside the box, making him the second player to score two goals from outside the box in a match this season after Lucas Zelarayan for Columbus Crew against San Jose Earthquakes in March.