If it feels like deja vu, you aren't wrong. Much like the MLS Cup Playoffs, Sporting KC and the Portland Timbers are playing back-to-back games in a home and away series. This time the game will be slightly deeper into the afternoon with a 3:00 PM CT start time and will be broadcast nationally on ESPN. Weather also shouldn't be as much of an issue as the game will shift across the country to Portland, Oregon.
I don't want to give a blow-by-blow recap of last weeks preview, but much of it still applies, so feel free to check that out. The main difference is that Portland is playing at home, where they are far better. In fact, they have yet to win on the road so all seven of their wins obviously had to happen at home (7-3-2). On the other side of that coin, Sporting KC have struggled on the road, like many of their counterparts in the league (2-6-3). Last year, when visiting Portland, SKC were 1-1-1 (counting the MLS Cup Playoff game) so it's anyone's guess as to what could happen Sunday. Let's get to the stats before we start making any rash predictions.
– Sporting KC: Jimmy Medranda (yellow card accumulation)
– Timbers: None (though in my opinion Fanendo Adi and Diego Chara should have seen second yellow's last Sunday)
Suspended Next Yellow Card:
– Sporting KC: Roger Espinoza
– Timbers: Alvas Powell
– Sporting KC:
OUT: Matt Besler (MCL Sprain), Justin Mapp (left calf strain), Brad Davis (left calf strain), Paulo Nagamura (left thigh strain), Tim Melia (back injury)
QUESTIONABLE: Nuno Andre Coelho (hamstring strain), Graham Zusi (hamstring strain), Jacob Peterson (calf strain)
OUT: Nat Borchers (ruptured Achilles tendon)
QUESTIONABLE: Liam Ridgewell (calf strain), Darron Mattocks (hamstring injury), Zarek Valentin (MCL sprain)
Sporting Kansas City’s Last Five: W/L/L/W/W
Portland's Last Five: D/D//W/L/L
– Sporting KC: Dom Dwyer (10)
– Timbers: Fanendo Adi (10)
Starting XI Prediction:
Abdul-Salaam – Opara – Olum – Sinovic
Feilhaber – Mustivar – Espinoza
Peterson – Dwyer – Hallisey
Rest of the 18: Kempin, Rubio, Myers, Porter, Ellis, Appiah, Zusi
Ouch, those are a lot of injuries and suspensions. Medranda had started 13 consecutive league games before picking up his fifth yellow card of the season. If I told you to look at this starting lineup at the beginning of the season, you may be in tears. That said, the only change from last weekend's 1-0 victory over Portland looks to be Seth Sinovic stepping back in at left back (at least that's my best guess). Peterson did limp off Sunday, so he may not be ready to go. Word is Zusi and Coelho are practicing, but considering they both aggravated injuries coming back too soon, I could see Sporting not fielding a full 18 versus risking injury again.
If Peterson and Zusi both can't play then I guess Cameron Porter becomes the starter. I know I'm not the only one that would like to see Diego Rubio get a shot on the wing versus forcing Porter to play 90 minutes. Rubio has skills on the ball and while he'd be out of position, Krisztian Nemeth was out of position on the wing and that worked out pretty well (remember he scored the MLS Goal of the Year last year in Portland).
As for the Timbers, they are in a bit of a lull. They didn't look great against SKC last weekend and their back line is still decimated with injuries. They have made a series of defensive signings during the summer transfer window, but last weekend they rolled out Sporting KC reject, Amobi Okugo, at center back. I thought overall Okugo was fine in that role and I'd guess he'll start again over a player who just joined the team this week.
As for the offense, Portland has it in droves. Between Adi, Diego Valeri, Jack McInerney, Darlington Nagbe and the suddenly emerging Lucas Melano, this team is stacked up front. They failed to find the back of the net last week (though Jack Mac did hit the crossbar) but it was mostly because they didn't possess the ball in the final third. Additionally, they only put one shot on goal, compared to six by SKC. If not for the play of goalkeeper Jake Gleeson, the results would probably be much worse.
Despite the recent change in form, I'm still not convinced that Sporting KC are that good. Despite that they are fourth in the Western Conference (34 points) compared to Portland who are in seventh (29 points). A win on the road would do wonders to pull away from the red line and push the team right beneath it back. I'm not convinced we'll see that Sunday.
Prediction: 0-0 Draw
For the national audience watching (and let's be honest -- for my own sake), I hope I'm wrong. Beating Portland in back-to-back games would extract a little revenge for that crazy playoff loss last year.