Sporting KC play in their second straight home game this Sunday at 1:00 PM CT as they host the Portland Timbers in a nationally televised game on FOX (that's big FOX, not Fox Sports 1). This will mark the earliest start to a game in the history of Children's Mercy Park. It looks to be hot and humid as thunderstorms are in the forecast for the morning of the game. Let's just hope any lightening subsides so there is no delay to kickoff.
SKC have not allowed a goal against Portland for 392-minutes and have gone 2-0-2 in the clubs last four regular season meetings. Obviously that omits the insane 11-round penalty shootout from last years MLS Cup Playoffs that would see Saad Abdul-Salaam hit both posts and bounce out (too soon?) and backup keeper Jon Kempin forced to try to take a penalty kick of his own. No doubt memories of that game are strong in the minds of both clubs.
This actually is a very interesting game to choose to put on FOX. No doubt the thrilling playoff meeting was in the minds of whoever made that decision and not the other three meetings from 2015. Two of those ended in a 0-0 draw and the other with Kriztian Nemeth's MLS Goal of the Year in a late 1-0 win. Nemeth is gone as is the goalkeeper on the other side of the field, Adam Kwarasay. Of course Nemeth was sold to a club in Qatar (as we all know far too well) and Kwarasay was just recently sold to Norwegian club Rosenborg.
There actually is quite a bit of change from the defenses that put forth those shutouts. Tim Melia is the main constant, but Matt Besler is out (more on that in a second) and both center backs for Portland, Liam Ridgewell and Nat Borchers, are injured as well. Sporting nearly have entirely different back line in place. SAS played but likely the other three will be Lawrence Olum, Ike Opara and Jimmy Medranda.
This is yet another pivital game in the close Western Conference playoff race. Sporting KC currently sit in fourth (31 points) just two points ahead of seventh place Portland (29 points). Portland has a game in hand on Sporting, as do all the other teams around them in the standings (some of three games in hand). That is probably why ESPN's Soccer Power Index gives Sporting just a 38 percent chance of making the playoffs. If they keep winning, the number should just keep going up.
Without further delay, let's get to the injuries and suspensions.
– Sporting KC: Matt Besler (for skipping the all-star game)
– Timbers: None
Suspended Next Yellow Card:
– Sporting KC: Jimmy Medranda
– Timbers: Alvas Powell
– Sporting KC:
OUT: Matt Besler (MCL Sprain), Justin Mapp (left calf strain), Brad Davis (left calf strain)
QUESTIONABLE: Nuno Andre Coelho (hamstring strain), Paulo Nagamura (left thigh strain), Graham Zusi (hamstring strain), Jacob Peterson (unknown ailment)
OUT: Darron Mattocks (hamstring injury), Nat Borchers (ruptured Achilles tendon)
QUESTIONABLE: Liam Ridgewell (calf strain), Jack Jewsbury (ankle injury)
Sporting Kansas City’s Last Five: W/W/L/L/W
Portland's Last Five: D/D/D//W/L
– Sporting KC: Dom Dwyer (10)
– Timbers: Fanendo Adi (10)
Starting XI Prediction:
Abdul-Salaam – Opara – Olum – Medranda
Feilhaber – Mustivar – Espinoza
Myers – Dwyer – Hallisey
Rest of the 18: Kann, Rubio, Peterson, Sinovic, Porter, Ellis, Appiah
First, let me address Matt Besler being suspended. It's ridiculous. He was injured and missed the game before the all-star game, so it's reasonable that his injury would keep him out of that game. MLS instituted a rule if you miss the ASG then you can't play in your next club game. It's a dumb rule. Overall though, it doesn't matter because Besler is still injured and apparently had been for sometime before officially going down (maybe that explains his poor play -- along with that early season concussion).
Next, let's talk starting eleven. Thad has a great piece on all the injuries the team is dealing with and many of the possible formations the club could go with. Ideally I'd like to see some version of a 4-4-2 with Rubio and Dwyer on the field together at the same time. Thad's concern, and rightly so, is Emmanuel Appiah is the only other healthy midfielder, and he doesn't deserve to start (or possibly even play). My solution is putting Connor Hallisey back into a wide midfield role, which is technically what the SKC roster has him listed as. That would take the pressure off of him to score (since apparently he can't) and put two proven scorers on the pitch together.
I don't expect that to happen though. I imagine Peter Vermes will stick with a 4-3-3 and if Jacob Peterson can't go (or at least can't start) either Cameron Porter or Chance Myers will play that other winger role. Porter is likely not 90 minutes fit (at least not Sporting Fit) but Myers has proved that he is. He played 90 minutes for the Swope Park Rangers at right back for the recently departed Jimmy Mulligan. Myers has also come on as a late sub at winger on several occasions. He has a proven ability to cross the ball into the box, though I'm not sure how his shooting skills are. The other big option is to move Jimmy Medranda back up and let Seth Sinovic start, though Vermes really hates to tinker with what is working and shockingly that back line is working quite well.
As for Portland, as I mentioned, their defense is hurting from injuries. The same cannot be said for their offense as Diego Valeri has looked great and Adi continues to put home chances when they come his way. Also, Portland recently played a 4-4-2 with Jack McInerney up top with Adi and that worked pretty well. Despite Jack Mac being a backup he is third on the team in goals with five. Benny Feilhaber is second on SKC with five goals.
One thing that has to be viewed in a positive light for Sporting fans are that Portland cannot win on the road. They are 0-4-6 in 2016 and haven't won a road game since they went to Columbus for the 2015 MLS Cup Final. It's not all sunshine and lollipops though, Portland haven't lost on the road since May 28th having secured four straight draws. Those all did happen before Borchers went down for the season.
I think the injuries to Portland's back line, the sweltering heat (which Kansas City practice in daily) and SKC's recent run of home form adds up to finding a win on national television.
2-1 Sporting KC Win
On a side note, there is something else special happening on Sunday. Members of the media will give a special treat to the fans in attendance as they will face off in a match-up during halftime. Our own Thad Bell will be starting at left back for #TeamSinovic and wearing number 96. He has assured me his expectations are low, but be sure to cheer him on if you are there. As a left back, he'll be lined up opposite of the Kansas City Star's Sam McDowell. Sam may be younger but we'll have to see if these have a fun battle on the pitch.