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Open Cup Preview: Sporting KC at Dynamo: Absences & Starting XI

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Round five is on the road where Sporting KC have struggled lately against Houston AND they’ll be without four starters.

MLS: Houston Dynamo at Sporting KC Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Sporting KC @ Houston Dynamo (#HOUvSKC)

Wednesday, June 28, 2017 at 5:30 PM CT

How to Watch: SportingKC.com or USsoccer.com

The 104th Lamar Hunt US Open Cup continues tomorrow in the sweltering afternoon heat of Houston, Texas. The fifth round game is kicking off at 5:30 despite that awful heat (a mild 84 degrees at kickoff with 69 percent humidity and a chance of rain) mostly because the Houston Dash are playing on that same field later that night. The Dynamo will be a big step up in competition from a Minnesota United (or is it Southern Canada United) B Team that Sporting stomped a 4-0 hole in two weeks ago.

This is the third straight year these clubs have met in the US Open. Two years ago Sporting Kansas City defeated the Dynamo 3-1 on their way to eventually becoming the 2015 Open Cup Champions. In 2016 the Dynamo ended Sporting’s attempt to defend their title with a 3-1 win at BBVA Compass Stadium. Houston is at home again on Wednesday where they boast five consecutive games without a loss against SKC (all competitions — 0-3-2).

This will mark the first meeting between these clubs in 2017 and it comes at a time when they are at the top of the table in the Western Conference. Sporting KC are in first place with 30 points through 18 games while Houston are in second with 25 points through 17 games.

While both teams will be without many of their stars, Houston will still have two notable players available. Erick “Cubo” Torres was snubbed by the Mexican National Team (for both the Confederations Cup and CONCACAF Gold Cup) despite being second in MLS in goals scored (11 goals, though five are from penalty kicks). They will also have Mauro Manotas who has five goals of his own and bagged a brace in this game last year against SKC.

Injuries

Sporting KC

OUT: Benny Feilhaber (ankle sprain)

QUESTIONABLE: Erik Palmer-Brown (thigh injury)

Dynamo

OUT: George Malki (torn ACL), Eric Alexander (right knee MCL sprain)

QUESTIONABLE: DaMarcus Beasley (right thigh injury)

Suspensions

Sporting KC - None

Dynamo - None

International Duty

Sporting KC - Dom Dwyer, Matt Besler, Graham Zusi (United States)

Dynamo - Alberth Elis, Romell Quinto (Honduras) [Boniek Garcia is on the preliminary roster for Honduras but there is no official word if he was called up]

Recent Form (Open Cup)

Sporting KC - Last Five: W/W/W/L/W <— That “L” is Houston.

Dynamo - Last Five: L/W/W/L/W

Leading Scorers

  • Sporting KC: Gerso Fernandes (6), Dom Dwyer (5), Latif Blessing, Benny Feilhaber, Ike Opara (2)
  • Dynamo: Erick Torres (11), Alberth Elis (6), Mauro Manotas (5), Romell Quinto (4)

Starting XI Predictions

Sporting KC Starting XI

Rest of the 18: Dykstra, Mustivar, Ellis, Porter, Belmar, Maher, Hernandez

It almost seems obvious to say at this point that Peter Vermes is going to put the best 11 players he has on the pitch. Without Besler, Zusi, Dwyer and Feilhaber it’s a bit of a crap shoot as to who those 11 are.

As a quick reminder there are rules around loaning players from USL teams to MLS clubs. During the regular season they can only be done in the case of extreme hardships but it changes during the Open Cup.

On that note, three players from the Swope Park Rangers will be joining Sporting KC in Houston: Kharlton Belmar, Parker Maher and Felipe Hernandez. While they are getting reinforcements, they’ll need them because of all the players that played tonight in Tulsa against the Roughnecks with Swope Park.

That’s Diego Rubio, Daniel Salloi, Tyler Pasher, Adrian Zendejas, Amer Didic, Colton Storm and Cameron Iwasa. That has to hurt if you are Iwasa who was left on loan instead of being recalled and he’ll be replaced by Belmar from SPR.

Side Note: Tyler Pasher may be on a “permanent” loan to SPR for the rest of the season. Since Rubio has returned to SKC Pasher has remained with SPR and may be on a full season loan to clear an international roster spot for Rubio since he’s off injured reserve.

Of the SPR loanees, only Salloi and Rubio are a surprises to me. They are both international players (and Salloi is a Homegrown player somehow) but SKC can have up to five of them. Salloi has looked pretty good lately and scored in the last round of the US Open Cup. Rubio had barely played before starting for SPR in Oklahoma, so that makes more sense.

Only a few positions are really up for debate.

First, who replaces Dom Dwyer?

Since Rubio just played in Tulsa it seems unlikely he hops a plan for a short flight to Houston. That leaves really just three options. Soony Saad, Latif Blessing and Cameron Porter. Porter started a CONCACAF Champions League game last year and scored a goal. Other than that he’s barely seen the field, so he’s a long shot.

The real question is Blessing or Saad. Blessing has started at center forward (and he scored a brace in his first ever start) but he is undersized for that role. Saad looked really good in his last start and even scored a goal* with a beautiful long strike. I lean towards Saad because he plays more like Dwyer (without all the hustling) and that frees up Blessing to play on the wing.

*OK, he technically didn’t score a goal, but the ball went over the line.

Second, who replaces Benny Feilhaber?

Benny is out for the foreseeable future with a sprained ankle which leaves a midfield opening. Felipe Hernandez could step in, though that seems unlikely. Soni Mustivar has played attacking midfielder before, but he’s definitely a defensive midfielder. The only real option is Jimmy Medranda. For my money, Medranda has looked far better in the midfield than he has as a winger. Moving him to the middle leaves an opening for Blessing out wide. Belmar could play that winger role but I like him as a super sub since he’s blazing fast and hustles non-stop defensively as well.

Last, who plays center back?

My heart wants Erik Palmer-Brown but my head says Vermes will pick Kevin Ellis. With EPB there are injury concerns (though I can confirm he returned to practice). He can’t seem to get on the field with SKC between getting hurt and international absences. He is out of contract at the end of 2017 and if he doesn’t get some starts now, he’s definitely going to leave.

Somehow Ellis will still get this start, but I can’t tell you how much I don’t want that to happen. He is a solid player but he is wildly inconsistent. You can blame Igor Juliao (and I do) for that game against Minnesota earlier this season, but even then, Ellis is short and that’s a tough trait to overcome in central defense.

As for trying to predict an outcome. Home field means a ton in soccer and Houston is really good at home (7-0-2). If they play their best players, they will be in a good position to win. That is a big if since they played mostly backups against North Carolina FC in the fourth round.

My fear is Sporting KC don’t score a lot of goals (tied for 15th in league play) and Houston are really good at scoring goals (tied for 4th) and countering. With several backups in the lineup SKC will be ripe for the picking.

Prediction: 2-0 Houston Win

Let us all hope this is an inaccurate prediction. Whoever wins will host FC Dallas in the quarterfinals.

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.