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

Rivalry renewed on the road at Rio Tinto Stadium between Sporting Kansas City and Real Salt Lake.

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MLS: Real Salt Lake at Sporting KC Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

Sporting KC @ Real Salt Lake (#RSLvSKC)

Saturday, July 22, 2017 at 9:00 PM CT

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

Coming into Saturday, neither of these clubs have exactly been lighting the league on fire in terms of goals scored. Real Salt Lake surged ahead of Sporting Kansas City in goals this week with a 4-1 victory over the Portland Timbers in a bizarre game in Oregon that had 3 red cards and two of their four goals coming after RSL were up 10 men to 9.

Yet still, these two clubs are in very different positions in the standings. Sporting KC sit atop of the table in the Western Conference with 32 points through 20 games and RSL are way down in 8th with just 23 points through 21 games. The difference is not the goals scored, but the leagues best defense coming out of KC.

While RSL have put three more goals in the net (27 to 24) they have allowed 27 more goals. Read that again. 27 more goals (41 to 14)! Yet the leagues best defense is somehow missing Ike Opara and Tim Melia from the MLS All-Star game roster. A story for another day.

The leagues best defense will likely be without three starters on Saturday though as international duty still calls (Besler, Zusi) and Ike Opara is recovering from a serious concussion suffered against FC Dallas. That likely means a much less experienced back line will be in play against a suddenly surging RSL offense.

The glimmer of hope for Sporting will be that this will be RSL’s third (!) game of the week after a friendly against Manchester United at home before taking a road trip to Portland. Playing three times in six days is no joke, even if the starters were pulled after the first 30 minutes in the friendly.

Injuries

Sporting KC

OUT: Ike Opara (concussion) [I wouldn’t be stunned to see him upgraded to questionable once the injury report comes out Saturday from the team.]

QUESTIONABLE: None

Salt Lake

OUT: Chad Barrett (knee surgery), Jordan Allen (knee surgery), Omar Holness (knee surgery), Ricardo Velazco (ankle surgery), Matt VanOekel (ankle injury)

QUESTIONABLE: Yura Movsisyan (hip injury), Sebastian Saucedo (calf injury), Demar Phillips (hamstring injury)

Suspensions

Sporting KC - None [Ilie was only fined for his hand to the throat in Philly]

Salt Lake - Kyle Beckerman (red card) [Chris Schuler suspended next yellow.]

International Duty

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

Salt Lake - None

Recent Form

Sporting KC - Last Five: D/D/W/D/D (7 Points)

Salt Lake - Last Five: L/W/L/L/W (6 Points)

Leading Scorers

  • Sporting KC: Gerso Fernandes (6), Dom Dwyer (5), Latif Blessing, Ike Opara, Benny Feilhaber (2)
  • Salt Lake: Yura Movsisyan (6), Joao Plata, Albert Rusnak (5), Kyle Beckerman (3)
MLS: Real Salt Lake at Sporting KC Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

Starting XI Predictions

As mentioned above, the back line will likely be hurting the most at Rio Tinto for the visitors. With Besler and Opara out, that will really only leave Erik Palmer-Brown and Kevin Ellis as a center back pairing. The two have played together for the Swope Park Rangers, but it’s been a while. Amer Didic is a possible backup, but he just played 90 minutes against Seattle Sounders 2 on Thursday up in the Pacific Northwest. There are no other center backs on the roster.

A bit of good news (depending how you look at it) is the return of Dom Dwyer. The reason for the caveat is he hasn’t scored in league plays since May 3rd, over two and a half months ago. He did score twice for the USMNT before being sent home by Bruce Arena. No offense to Dom, but I’d much rather have seen Besler sent home since SKC keep finding ways to score goals without Dwyer. Regardless, Rubio likely heads to the bench for Dom.

Also available for the first time is new signing Cristian Lobato. He is projected as a left winger (though he has said he enjoys playing on the right side and cutting in on his dominant left foot) but he could potentially be available in the midfield or at left back as well. Don’t expect him to start as Peter Vermes rarely plays midseason signings for heavy minutes, but he’s been training with the team.

The last real debate is who plays in the midfield. Ilie Sanchez will be available after he only got a fine for a hand to the throat of Gooch. Ahead of him in the midfield will likely be Roger Espinoza, who was out of form but has stepped up his play recently (and Vermes will never bench him anyways, he’s the Captain right now). The debate is do you play Benny Feilhaber or Jimmy Medranda. Feilhaber was saved until late in the FC Dallas game when he came on as a super sub and made two defensive plays that essentially won the team the game. I’d still expect him to start.

Rest of the 18: Dykstra, Mustivar, Medranda, Saad, Salloi, Rubio, Pasher

If recent history is any indicator, RSL probably have a leg up in this game. They have won three straight meetings between these teams at home dating all the way back to July of 2013. They are also 6-3-3 all-time against Sporting KC when hosting.

But this season has been different. In the friendly confines of Sporting Park Children’s Mercy Park SKC beat down Salt Lake earlier this year 3-0. And Sporting are clearly the better team in 2017, as the standings show.

That said, Salt Lake have been righting the ship as of late and seem to be finding their stroke. They could easily put an end to SKC’s nine game unbeaten streak (all competitions).

Prediction: 1-1 Draw

Something tells me the tired legs of RSL combined with the injuries and absences for SKC, will lead to less than stellar play between these rivals. Sporting are riding high off their crazy win against FC Dallas in the US Open Cup and have plenty of time off leading up to this game. They should be rested and ready, but a back line with Kevin Ellis and Saad Abdul-Salaam on the right leaves me less than confident.

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.