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

The first leg is on the road on Sunday.

MLS: U.S. Open Cup-Real Salt Lake vs Sporting KC Jeff Swinger-USA TODAY Sports

Sporting KC @ Real Salt Lake (#RSLvSKC)

Sunday, November 4th, 2018 at 9:00 PM CT

How to Watch: FS1 | ESPN 94.5 FM |

For the first time since 2013’s MLS Cup win, Sporting Kansas City will play a home game in the playoffs. The catch is, they have to play in Sandy, Utah in the first leg of the Western Conference Semifinals against RSL first. The good news is that Real Salt Lake just played on Thursday in Los Angeles and they’ll only get a two day window before they play again.

The bad news is RSL absolutely have Sporting KC’s number. In the last 12 regular season meetings, SKC are just 1-6-5. That includes six straight games at Rio Tinto Stadium in league play without a win (0-4-2). Sporting actually haven’t won in Salt Lake in MLS play since a 2013 regular season meeting on July 20th. That was a 2-1 win with a late Ike Opara header putting home the final goal. Oh, and a little something else happened that year as SKC went on to win the whole damn thing. I’m just saying.

So maybe the head-to-head stats aren’t in Kansas City’s favor, but this team just feels different. In past seasons they have collapsed late to bomb out of the playoffs early. This year they won their final three games to move into first place, including two road wins. They scored more goals than they ever have in the history of the club. They’ve done that while still boasting the league’s third best defense (1.18 goals per game). This team just feels special, but they have a real test ahead of them.


Sporting KC

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


PROBABLE: Ike Opara (head), Roger Espinoza (unknown), Johnny Russell (unknown), Graham Zusi (unknown) — I don’t usually do the “probable” category but TBT’s Robert Rusert interviewed Vermes who confirmed they are all “banged up a bit.” Vermes went on to say, “my belief is they will all be available for Sunday’s match. In what capacity, I’m not 100% sure yet.” [Update 11/4/18: None of these four are on the injury report.]

Salt Lake

OUT: Tony Beltran (right knee surgery), Jordan Allen (knee surgery), Alex Horwath (Achilles surgery), David Horst (Achilles surgery)



Sporting KC - Seth Sinovic (red card)

Salt Lake - None (Suspended Next Yellow: Aaron Herrera, Jefferson Savarino, Corey Baird, Albert Rusnak, Sunny) — It just takes two yellow cards to get suspended in the playoffs and RSL are honestly lucky to not have gotten more yellows.

Statistical Leaders

Sporting KC

Goals: Daniel Salloi (11), Johnny Russell (10), Diego Rubio (8), Felipe Gutierrez (7), Gerso (5), Ilie Sanchez (4), Ike Opara, Yohan Croizet, Roger Espinoza (3)

Assists: Johnny Russell (10), Roger Espinoza (9), Daniel Salloi, Graham Zusi (7), Diego Rubio (6), Gerso, Khiry Shelton (5), Ilie Sanchez (4), Yohan Croizet, Matt Besler (3)

Salt Lake

Goals: Damir Kreilach (12), Albert Rusnak (10), Joao Plata, Corey Baird (8), Jefferson Savarino (7), Luis Silva (5), Sebastian Saucedo (3)

Assists: Savarino (11), Plata, Kreilach (8), Rusnak (7), Saucedo, Baird, Brooks Lennon (5)

Recent Performances

Sporting KC - D/D/W/W/W (11 points)

Salt Lake - D/L/W/L/W (7 points)

Starting XI Predictions

As seen above, there are some real concerns coming into this game. First, Seth Sinovic is suspended. He isn’t flashy but he’s incredibly consistent. He is the only healthy natural left back on the entire roster with Medranda and Lobato out for the season. That creates a real dilemma as to how this team should lineup. We’ve dedicated a lot of space to this question this week and I’d start there before going on.

With all that space dedicated to left back debate (or a three in the back option), I won’t give overkill. Yohan’s quote says a lot to me: “I have only one week to be ready. Everything [Coach Peter Vermes] and they tell me, I focus on that. I hope I will play a good game come Sunday.” Then Vermes remains coy but Croizet isn’t a savvy.

As far as him starting, I’ll say I’m scared. Yohan has been way better but he did have one bad turnover after coming in for Seth against Los Angeles Football Club. RSL have wingers that can absolutely scorch Croizet or Zusi at fullback. That said, the players are immensely comfortable with the 4-3-3 and they slide from position to position seamlessly. Let’s hope that keeps going on Sunday.

As for the rest of the starting lineup, I expect no other changes. Peter Vermes is a “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” type of guy. And it surely isn’t broken right now. In the last three games Sporting have score nine goals and allowed just two (one of which was a PK). There is probably no reason to change that. Though it should be said, Mark wrote a story that actually showed the team does better when Rubio starts on the road and Shelton starts at home. Weird. Chew on that for a bit.

I do quietly worry that the injuries that Zusi, Opara, Russell and Espinoza have could cause problems in this game or cause them to miss a game. It would hurt if that starting lineup comes out and someone is missing unexpectedly. The good thing is it sounds like Jaylin Lindsey is back (despite playing extensive minutes midweek) and could be available.

Rest of the 18: Zendejas, Fontas, Lindsey, Gerso, Rubio, Busio, Kuzain

As for the bench, despite the Sinovic suspension, it’s still stacked. Rubio, Gerso and Busio are all great offensive options. If Lindsey can’t go then the likely option is either Brad Evans or Colton Storm, neither of who have played a single minute with Sporting KC.

[The fan vote brought in the most votes since the beginning of the season. People are torn on how to replace Sinovic. Despite being torn, your voted lineup mirrors mine above. However, Croizet did get just 39% of the back line vote. Closely trailing him were Fontas (25.2%) and Lindsey (24.4%). The only other player not to start north of 20% was Rubio at 21.1%.]

I’m nervous about this game. There is just something about these two teams playing each other. RSL are on very short rest. Sporting KC are very hot. It seems like things are falling into place. But I’ll leave you with this stat. Sporting KC are a horrific 2-17-5 on the road in the playoffs. They haven’t won on the road since 2011 and they are 0-5-2 since then. They don’t need to win Sunday — though, oh man, that’d be great. If they pull off a draw, I think most people would be happy. If it’s a draw where SKC score one or more away goals, even better (away goals are a tiebreaker).

What I ask from Vermes is that if the team isn’t playing well, they make subs early and often. If they can’t score, get Rubio on the field and give him 25-30 minutes.

All this said, I won’t make a prediction. I’m not superstitious but let’s not risk it.

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.