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Playoff Preview: Sporting KC v Portland Timbers: Stats, Injuries & Starting XI (First Leg)

On the road again... we just can’t wait to see SKC on the road again. The all important first leg goes down in Portland on Sunday.

MLS: Portland Timbers at Sporting KC Peter G. Aiken

Sporting KC @ Portland Timbers (#PORvSKC)

Sunday, November 25th, 2018 at 5:30 PM CT

How to Watch: FS1

Just 14 days later and we are finally here. The Western Conference Finals will look to carry the momentum created by the wild semifinal match-ups. Gone are the intense rivalries between Sporting Kansas City and Real Salt Lake and the Cascadia rivalry between the Timbers and Seattle Sounders. In their place is a potential budding rivalry that really heated up with the tragic double-post loss in the 2015 MLS Cup Playoffs that ultimately opened the path for Portland to win their first title.

Sporting will be looking for a bit of revenge in front of the Timber’s Army but they’ll need to do something different if they want to win on the road. The last time they won a playoff game on the road was way back in 2011. Since then, they have played eight times and gotten no wins (0-4-4).

Where things get a lot better for SKC is when you look at their head-to-head record against Portland. In the regular season since 2014 they’ve gone (5-1-4). Add in the double-post PK loss (it’s technically a draw) and that record still looks pretty good overall. If the game ends in a tie, the more important thing is that (much like RSL) it’s a tie that involves Sporting scoring goals. The thing is, the last time these two teams met at Providence Park, Sporting KC pulled out a 0-0 draw. Better than losing, but less than ideal. Then again, the playoffs are a different beast.

Before that though, Sporting are pretty fantastic in Portland. They are 4-2-2 during the regular season all-time against the Timbers. Also, Tim Melia is particularly fantastic against Portland. During the regular season he has allowed just one goal in six meetings while saving 95.8 percent of all shots against him.

Let’s also remember he got hurt in that double-post game and the Portland fans booed him while he was injured. That’s also the gave where Adi elbowed Besler in the face and busted him all open (at least Adi’s gone, he’s got a bit of a history of these things). It seems like time for revenge.

Injuries

Sporting KC

OUT: Jimmy Medranda (knee surgery - out for season), Cristian Lobato (knee injury - out for season)

QUESTIONABLE: Graham Zusi (thigh injury)

Portland

OUT: Roy Miller (right thigh injury), Jake Gleeson (bilateral tibal stress fracture surgery)

QUESTIONABLE: David Guzman (thigh injury)

Suspensions

Sporting KC - Diego Rubio (Suspended Next Yellow: Roger Espinoza)

Portland - None (Suspended Next Yellow: Diego Chara, Diego Valeri, Andres Flores, Liam Ridgewell — those Diego’s are critically important)

Statistical Leaders (Regular Season + Playoffs)

Sporting KC

Goals: Daniel Salloi (13), Johnny Russell (10), Diego Rubio (10), Felipe Gutierrez (7), Gerso, Ilie Sanchez (5), Ike Opara, Yohan Croizet, Roger Espinoza (3)

Assists: Johnny Russell (11), Roger Espinoza (9), Daniel Salloi, Graham Zusi (7), Diego Rubio (6), Gerso, Khiry Shelton, Felipe Gutierrez (5), Ilie Sanchez (4), Yohan Croizet, Matt Besler (3)

Portland

Goals: Diego Valeri, Sebastian Blanco (12), Samuel Armenteros (8), Larrys Mabiala (5), Fanendo Adi, David Guzman, Jeremy Ebobisse, Alvas Powell (3)

Assists: Valeri (14), Blanco (11), Powell (4), Cristhian Paredes, Ebobisse (3)

Recent Performances (Including Playoffs)

Sporting KC - W/W/W/D/W

Portland - W/L/W/W/L (Yeah, they advanced on a loss.)

Starting XI Predictions

There are a couple questions heading into the first leg match-up. First, who plays striker? It’s been the eternal question of the 2018 season for Sporting. Diego Rubio has staked his claim on that job but he finds himself suspended after picking up a trash yellow card in the first leg of the RSL playoff series and a much more deserve yellow in the second (however unlucky).

With Rubio out it would seem it’s down to Khiry Shelton and Krisztian Nemeth. Let’s be honest, Nemeth hasn’t really fit in. Despite scoring the Goal of the Year in MLS in 2015 in Portland, I just can’t see him starting. Then again, Shelton looked abysmal after he came on for Rubio against Salt Lake. He was on for that 15 or so minutes where SKC couldn’t keep the ball and gave up numerous good chances on goal. Shelton wasn’t great in the first playoff game either. Hopefully the jitters are out of his system and he’s ready to do what he did for the team down the stretch.

The next question is will Johnny Russell be ready to play? He’s done some extensive travelling for the Scottish National Team during the international break. And while he got very limited minutes in the first game and sat out the second, he still had to fly all the way to Oregon. I’d say if there is a time to push through it’s now, but don’t be stunned if Gerso or Croizet get a surprise start on the wing.

Outside of those choices, it seems pretty clear Salloi will keep starting since he can’t stop scoring. Plus the midfield and back line have done well overall and deserve to remain unchanged.

Rest of the 18: Zendejas, Fontas, Nemeth, Gerso, Lindsey, Busio, Croizet

Jaylin Lindsey may be available as a fullback since he’s done winning the CONCACAF U20 Championship with the United States Men’s National Team. Then again, maybe Croizet is the emergency fullback yet again. Who knows.

[The fan vote is nearly not worth doing at this point. There was no disagreement between my lineup and the community's votes. The highest non-starter was Nemeth with a meager 19.4% of the vote. Next is Gerso at just 11.9%. Outside of Shelton, all the starters had 89.6% (Salloi) of the vote or higher and Besler, Gutierrez, Opara, Zusi, Sinovic and Ilie were all at 97% or higher. We are all pretty locked in on this basic lineup.]

Refusing to make predictions has worked out pretty good so far. Why mess with a good thing? One thing to watch, whatever the result in this game, is all the yellow cards. Sporting have just Espinoza on a yellow, but if he were to get suspended it would probably hurt pretty bad. Then again, Croizet can probably step in and be serviceable and even give Roger a break.

On the other hand Portland has some big players on yellows that they would dearly miss in the second leg back in KC on Thursday. The Diego’s specifically — Chara and Valeri — are both on yellows and the team is truly lost without them. Portland can’t seem to win without Chara (he’s basically their Ilie) and Valeri leads the team in goals and assists and is the 2017 MLS MVP. So whatever happens, I’d love to see SKC push the pace and make Portland make a mistake and pick up a few dumb yellows.

Prediction: Refusing to Make

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.