Sporting KC v New York City FC (#SKCvNYC)
Sunday, March 4, 2018 at 6:30 PM CT
Fox Sports 1
MLS is back. After Sporting Kansas City made their fourth consecutive early exit from the playoffs, they start 2018 with an attempt to once again claim MLS Cup. Along with now 22 other MLS clubs (welcome LAFC). We’ve been building up to this game for quite a while now. We broke down positional previews of Goalkeepers, Defenders, Midfielders and Forwards. And now it’s time to break down this first game.
First, just in case you’ve been hiding behind a rock, let’s go over all the changes.
In: Felipe Guitierrez, Johnny Russell, Yohan Croizet, Khiry Shelton, Emiliano Amor, Jaylin Lindsey, Eric Dick, Graham Smith, Matt Lewis, Brad Evans
Easily four of those new additions could start, including an entirely new front three. Felipe is probably the gem of the group (though Russell may have something to say about that). He’s a Designated Player midfielder who can basically play all three midfield spots. Despite his best spot (per Vermes) being the #8 box-to-box role that Roger Espinoza plays, expect him to start at the #10 recently vacated by Benny Feilhaber. That brings us to...
Out: Benny Feilhaber, Latif Blessing, Zach Wright (who was in and out), James Musa, Andrew Dykstra, Erik Palmer-Brown, Kevin Ellis, Saad Abdul-Salaam, Soony Saad, Cameron Iwasa, Cameron Porter, Tyler Pasher, Soni Mustivar, and Kevin Oliveira
Obviously Benny is the big missing piece. Croizet was initially announced as his replacement when he signed his DP contract but he’s lined up primarily on the wing in the preseason. While Benny had dipped in recent years, it could have been the people around him not finishing chances. Another big loss is Latif Blessing who is also in LAFC with Benny. If nothing, we’ll miss that funky dancing.
Stats Worth Knowing
Sporting KC has the most season-opening wins in MLS history (13) and has never lost a home opener at Children’s Mercy Park (2-0-5). In fact, they’ve only lost two home openers ever (13-2-7).
SKC and NYCFC don’t have a ton of history with Sporting going 2-1-0 all-time. New York won the most recent meeting, an ugly 1-0 loss on the road on a tiny field in Yankee Stadium. Obviously that means Sporting won the prior two meetings and are undefeated at home against New York. In a weird little stat, Ike Opara has scored in both of those wins.
David Villa has scored 63 regular-season goals since joining MLS. The best in the league over that three-year span. That’s 18 (2015), 23 (2016) and 22 (2015). He’ll have to get by 2017 Defender of the Year, Opara, and 2017 Goalkeeper of the Year, Tim Melia, to keep adding to that total in Week 1.
New York had a fantastic season in 2017, but they came up short again. Out are Jack Harrison and Andrea Pirlo and in are DP Jesús Medina and Anton Tinnerholm (among others — including Abdul-Salaam).
Medina is expected to do big things. NYC had to fight off FC Copenhagen and Boca Juniors to sign Medina. And the same guy who found Gabriel Jesus for Manchester City, located Medina. Obviously Jesus is on another level, but Medina is still one to watch.
Someone needs to take the pressure of Villa scoring all the goals as he is 36-years-old and father time is undefeated. 2018 probably won’t be the year that time gets to Villa yet.
QUESTIONABLE: Brad Evans (lower back injury), Khiry Shelton (leg bruise), Jimmy Medranda (hamstring — per our own community member DGreenwald)
OUT: Jo Inge Berget (quad injury)
Sporting KC - None (though some teams can’t say the same)
NYCFC - None
Starting XI Predictions
Our above mentioned positional previews goes through literally each spot on the roster. At this point, we’ve analyzed this to death. I’m going to 100% go with the lineup that Vermes put out last Saturday with extended minutes against the Portland Timbers in preseason. It’s not the lineup I’d choose, but here is my best guess on what PV will put out.
Rest of the 18: Zendejas, Salloi, Gerso, Rubio, Sinovic, Didic, Lindsey
Now I’m not sold this should be the lineup. I’d like Croizet off the wing, push Russell to the right and start Salloi on the left. That let’s Gerso be the first winger off the bench (oh the speed) and Croizet sub in for a midfield boost.
Also, I’m not 100% on Shelton at CF over Rubio. I’d flip it, start Rubio and let him wear down the defense and give Shelton 30 minutes to then tear about New York with speed and size late.
The last open spot for me is Lobato. He made a terrible back pass against Portland last week that led directly to a goal. While he is more exciting going forward, he’s questionable in defense against a very offensive NYC team. Sinovic is boring, but he’s also very stable. If Lobato screws up too much, he’ll find the bench quick.
[The fan vote was REALLY close at a bunch of spots but mirrored the above Starting XI 100%. Rubio lost to Shelton by three votes. Gerso was only another six votes back. Defense was less close (53.5% for Lobato to 35.7% for Sinovic). The midfield was a wipe-out. Ilie got all by two votes for his spot with Espinoza doing the worst (84.1%) of the starters. In defense Opara, Besler and Zusi were all at 95.5% or higher. I’m intrigued to see the changes after Week 1.]
When it comes to picking a winner, I’m not going to overthink it. The Cauldron (and the whole stadium for that matter) should be beyond loud. SKC finds a way.