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

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Finally... the MLS Cup Playoffs... have come back to Children’s Mercy Park!

MLS: Western Conference Semifinal-Sporting Kansas City at Real Salt Lake Rob Gray-USA TODAY Sports

Sporting KC v Real Salt Lake (#SKCvRSL)

Sunday, November 11th, 2018 at 2:00 PM CT

How to Watch: ESPN

Sunday will mark the first home game for Sporting Kansas City since MLS Cup 2013. The game is stunningly schedule at the same time as the Kansas City Chiefs, but the house will still be packed. Kansas City fans are so hungry for a home game it should be one of the most hostile environments a team has ever walked in to. But RSL are used to being hated, especially in KC.

The last time these two teams met in KC in the playoffs... we all know what happened. On Sunday, KC would love to avoid that level of drama and get Salt Lake out of there much quicker and more easily. We beat the stats to death when we previewed this game a week ago. They aren’t very positive for Sporting KC.

There is a stat that didn’t make it into that preview. It’s about possession. It’s such an issue, it got it’s own story. Let us all hope it was intentional to concede possession and RSL hasn’t fully figured out KC.

How Sporting KC Can Advance

It’s simple. Win and you go on to face Portland. Also, a 0-0 draw does it. Plus a bunch of other scores. I’ll let this pretty MLS graphic do the work for me.

Something to remember, that if it ends 1-1, it’ll go to extra time and away goals suddenly don’t matter anymore. As if you missed that thriller last night between the Seattle Sounders and Portland Timbers. Portland didn’t know. Though it didn’t really matter.

Injuries

Sporting KC

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

QUESTIONABLE: None

*The official injury report will likely come out Sunday and we’ll update the story at that time.

Salt Lake

OUT: David Horst (Achilles surgery)

QUESTIONABLE: Tony Beltran (right knee surgery), Jordan Allen (knee surgery), Alex Horwath (Achilles surgery), Marcello Silva (groin)

Suspensions

Sporting KC - None (Suspended Next Yellow: Diego Rubio — and it was an absolute garbage call. His only foul [and a soft one at that] led to a yellow, which could really hurt later.)

Salt Lake - Albert Rusnak (Suspended Next Yellow: Aaron Herrera, Jefferson Savarino, Corey Baird, Sunny, Kyle Beckerman) — It just takes two yellow cards to get suspended in the playoffs.

Statistical Leaders (Regular Season + Playoffs)

Sporting KC

Goals: Daniel Salloi (11), Johnny Russell (10), Diego Rubio (9), 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, Felipe Gutierrez, Matt Besler (3)

Salt Lake

Goals: Damir Kreilach (14), Albert Rusnak (11), Joao Plata, Corey Baird (8), Jefferson Savarino (7), Luis Silva (5), Sebastian Saucedo (3)

Assists: Savarino (11), Kreilach (9), Plata (8), Rusnak (7), Brooks Lennon (6), Saucedo, Baird (5)

Recent Performances (Including Playoffs)

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

Salt Lake - L/W/L/W/D

Starting XI Predictions

Well one thing is for sure, Seth Sinovic will return at left back. Yohan played okay, but let’s not get crazy. He’ll head back to the bench to be a game changing sub. He’s like a bull in the china shop that can apparently play nearly all the positions. Sinovic has been a key cog in the backline for a Sporting KC defense that finished the regular season third in goals allowed (1.18 per game). There is no way he’s not back in.

The debate — the one that will apparently never end — is who starts at center forward? We’ve recently done a statistical breakdown of xG (expected goals) based on who the starting CF is. It’s awfully close no matter who starts, especially at home.

Last time out Khiry Shelton got the start and he was serviceable. He had a good play that setup Salloi who took a bad touch and was forced to dish back to Shelton and make him shoot (which he seems to utterly lack confidence in his ability to do so). If Salloi buries that opportunity, this conversation isn’t probably fired up again.

The other thing getting this debate going is that Diego Rubio replaced Shelton in the match and scored less than a minute in. It’s so very clear that Shelton wouldn’t take that shot and very likely if he did he wouldn’t make that shot. So does that mean Rubio should remain the super sub and Shelton should start again? I’d guess that’ll be the case. I’m not saying that’s the decision I’d make, but I suspect Vermes will. He just needs to be ready to make the switch again if it’s not working.

Here is a stat for you: Rubio is averaging a goal every 33.4 minutes as a sub. He has five goals in 2018 off the bench. That’s a nice weapon to have in your back pocket. If SKC are dominating the game, since he’s on a yellow, run Shelton into the ground and save Rubio.

As for who starts next to Shelton, I’d suspect Salloi and Russell still have those spots. Salloi has been a bit off his game lately, despite four goals in the final three MLS regular season games. His touch has been poor. His passing has been subpar. But he’s a goal scorer and that should keep him on the field. If he struggles again though, I’d like to see Gerso (or even Krisztian Nemeth) replace him on the left wing much earlier. As for Russell, he’s done nothing to lose his spot.

Everything else should remain the same. One thing I’ll add, and it might go against what most people are seeing, but I’d like to see Gianluca Busio come on if Felipe struggles. You may be saying to yourself, “is Felipe struggling?” It could have just been the weird nature of the last game where Sporting didn’t possess the ball, but Gutierrez seemed off his game to me. He had a few fantastic plays, but he was otherwise pretty invisible. That deflection that led to the goal was pretty great though.

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

I suspect Jaylin Lindsey won’t be available since he’s back with the United States U-20s in CONCACAF World Cup Qualifying. Croizet is likely the emergency left back again. Man, look at that depth. That’s a scary bench.

[The fan vote is in and there are a few stunningly high percentages (as of this writing). Tim Melia, Matt Besler, Ilie Sanchez and Felipe Gutierrez got 100% of the vote. Johnny Russell got 98.6%. Seth Sinovic, Ike Opara, Graham Zusi and Roger Espinoza got 97.2%. Only up front is the vote even slightly divided. You all agreed with me it’ll be Salloi-Shelton-Russell. However, Rubio pulled 33.3% of the vote and Gerso snagged 16.7%.]

You may have noticed we’ve removed “predictions” from the title of these stories. I am truly not a superstitious person but I can’t bring myself to write down a score or make a pick. Sporting Kansas City are the better team. They should win the game. But there is something about RSL that causes trouble. They could very well come in and play spoiler. Then again, Sporting really need to avenge that Double Post loss since Portland advanced last night against Seattle. Let’s leave it at that.

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.