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Sporting KC at Real Salt Lake: Preview, Predictions, Injuries & Starting XI

SKC are in but they can still lock up a home game or a bye this Sunday.

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MLS: Sporting KC at Real Salt Lake Chris Nicoll-USA TODAY Sports

Sporting KC @ Real Salt Lake (#RSLvSKC)

Sunday, October 22, 2017 at 3:00 PM CT

Fox Sports KC | MLS Live | fuboTV (free trial)

Sunday is Decision Day for MLS. All 22 teams will play at the exact same time in an effort to lock down playoff seeding and the final playoff spot. Real Salt Lake are desperately trying to get into the playoffs after a great late season surge may come up just short after they lost to the Colorado Rapids last weekend. They no longer control their own destiny as simply winning isn’t enough. They must win or tie and get help from the San Jose Earthquakes and FC Dallas.

Sporting Kansas City are finally coming into a Decision Day not trying to lock up a playoff spot. They locked up their spot last weekend with a draw against Houston in a game where they did everything but actually put the ball into the back of the net.

Had Sporting KC won either game against Houston last week, this would be a different topic of conversation. They would have their home game they so desperately want locked up. Instead, they could finish anywhere from second to fifth based on Sunday’s results (see the sidebar for a full breakdown).

One thing that is pretty easy to understand, if SKC win, they will avoid going on the road in the knockout round. That has been the goal since day one and remains the goal. Since winning MLS Cup 2013, Sporting haven’t hosted a playoff match and they’ve been bounced in heartbreaking fashion on the road three straight years in the first round (twice to the eventual MLS Cup Winners). A win at least puts them at home.

Winning will be easier said than done in Rio Tinto Stadium. SKC haven’t won on the road against RSL since 2013 and have only picked up two road wins in all of 2017. All-time the club has just a 3-6-3 record in Salt Lake.

To make matters worse, RSL are fantastic at home, especially lately. They have won four straight home games and are +10 in goal differential over that time. They will be playing the staunch Sporting KC defense who are a shut out away from tying the league record by only allowing 27 goals in a 34-game regular season.

Sporting will have to keep it scoreless without their MVP (at least per the Pitch Black Awards) Tim Melia, who will miss his third straight start with a hamstring injury. The KC Star has reported Melia has made progress but won’t be ready to go Sunday.

Injuries

Sporting KC

OUT: Cameron Porter (broken fibula and ligament damage in right ankle), Tim Melia (Hamstring Strain)

QUESTIONABLE: None

Salt Lake

OUT: Chad Barrett (knee surgery), Jordan Allen (knee surgery), Omar Holness (knee surgery), Ricardo Velazco (ankle surgery), Tony Beltran (right knee injury)

QUESTIONABLE: Jefferson Savarino (ankle injury)

Suspensions

Sporting KC - Kevin Ellis (technically Ellis and the team have agreed he’ll step away temporarily)

Salt Lake - None

*Several players are a yellow card away from suspension but that will reset for the MLS Cup Playoffs.

Recent Form

Sporting KC - Last Five: W/L/D/L/D (5 Points)

Salt Lake - Last Five: L/W/W/D/L (7 Points)

Leading Scorers

  • Sporting KC: Gerso Fernandes (8), Diego Rubio (6) Dom Dwyer, Benny Feilhaber, (5), Latif Blessing, Daniel Salloi (3)
  • Salt Lake: Joao Plata, Albert Rusnak, Yura Movsisyan (7), Luis Silva, Jefferson Savarino (6)

Starting XI Predictions

Potentially the most important spot on the field is the one Peter Vermes likely won’t tinker with. With Tim Melia set to miss the game, Andrew Dykstra will likely get his fourth straight start. I’m still not convinced he’s better than Adrian Zendejas, but PV will go with experience here. The two soft goals Dykstra gave up still loom large in my mind. Random side note, I’d love to see Zendejas get loaned to the Swope Park Rangers and Melia ride the bench. It’s risky if he’s not healthy and Dykstra gets hurt, but if Zendejas isn’t getting used, SPR do have a huge playoff game Saturday.

A shocker last weekend against Houston was Cristian Lobato playing left back for the first time this season. I assumed at the outset that Jimmy Medranda was really the left back and Lobato was the winger, but that didn’t come to pass. Lobato looked like a liability defensively, but somehow Alberth Elis never made him pay but he was good going forward. If Seth Sinovic isn’t starting at left back, it should be Jimmy Medranda who has the pace to handle wingers like Plata, Brooks Lennon, etc.

The last spots open to discussion is across the front line. Diego Rubio is the only true center forward on the roster, despite Latif Blessing playing there a a bit, and Rubio should start. The wingers are anybody’s guess. Gerso, Salloi, Blessing, Lobato and Medranda are all in play. I really like Salloi’s ability to combine with Rubio and actually interchange positions on the fly. On the other side, I’d be fine with Gerso or Blessing. What is very odd is that Gerso is the team’s leading scorer but he couldn’t get off the bench when Sporting desperately needed a goal last Sunday. If he doesn’t start, he at least needs to play that super-sub role.

And the midfield should stay the same, Roger Espinoza, Benny Feilhaber and Ilie Sanchez should all start.

Rest of the 18: Zendejas, Gerso, Palmer-Brown, Sinovic, Lobato, Mustivar, Abdul-Salaam

[In the fan vote you guys have Sinovic at left back and Gerso over Blessing on the wing. The rest is the same, though it’s worth noting a lot of you voted for Zendejas to start too. Though I honestly think that should happen, it surely won’t.]

Salt Lake are going to be playing for their season on Sunday and they are doing it at home. As stated, even if they win, they may not get in. I can’t imagine they limit themselves further by not putting their best foot forward. With all the games going on at the same time, they may not be aware of the outcomes for Dallas and San Jose so they can’t risk a tie.

Sporting simply are terrible on the road, are in bad form lately with the only four game winless streak of the season and just don’t need it as bad. They’ve worked all season to avoid going on the road in the first round of the playoffs, but I’m not confident they’ll get it done.

Prediction: 2-1 Real Salt Lake Win

I hope I’m wrong. I’m even foolishly inviting my friends of Salt Lake City to my house on Sunday so we can watch this game together.

Here is to hoping Dallas and San Jose are up by a bunch of goals and RSL are just demoralized and give up. Both of those teams are at home against some of the worst teams in the West, but I doubt they’ll be winning by enough to crush RSL’s spirits.

Oh, how I hope I’m wrong.

Who do you think will start? Who do you think should start? And what is your prediction for an outcome? Let us know in the comments.