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Sporting KC v Colorado Rapids: Preview, Predictions, Injuries & Starting XI

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SKC look to make it three straight.

MLS: Sporting KC at Colorado Rapids Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

Sporting KC v Colorado Rapids (#COLvSKC)

Saturday, March 24, 2018 at 8:00 PM CT

Fox Sports KC | MLS Live (free at live.mlssoccer.com for out of market fans)

On Saturday, two teams will converge on the state of Colorado for a match-up of the best versus the worst. Technically SKC are tied for 1st and Colorado are tied for last in the Western Conference — though goal differential would say something else (Portland is last slightly ahead of Seattle).

Not only will it mark the meeting of the best* and worst* teams in the West, but it’s the second road game of the season and the second Roaddron of the season. Last season, I was lucky enough to travel to Colorado and join the Cauldron and 1000 of my newest friends to out-cheer the rest of Dick’s Sporting Goods Park. Unfortunately, that game ended in a 1-0 loss for Sporting Kansas City.

There is just something about playing in Commerce City that doesn’t sit well for Sporting KC. They have lost four straight road matches in Colorado, with the previous three all being 1-0 defeats. But Colorado has changed a lot since last season, so much so that it’s quite likely the scoring will increase. Not only have the Rapids changed, but obviously Sporting KC have found new life as well scoring seven goals in their last two (!) games.

In 2017, in their lone road game in Colorado, SKC out-shot the Rapids 24-6. Tim Howard seemed extra motivated in that game after earning himself a suspension for his conduct after a 3-1 lambasting he took in Children’s Mercy Park earlier that season. He came over to the Roaddron after the game and didn’t act like the 39-year-old man that he is but instead a petulant child.

Howard has a lot to watch out for on Saturday as SKC’s improved attack is averaging five shots on goal a game (7th best in the league) and are tied for third with 2.33 goals per game. One thing Howard should be very happy about is that Daniel Salloi will be on an international call-up and his league best three assists won’t be added upon. Not to worry though SKC fans, Johnny Russell and Roger Espinoza are tied for second in assists.

Colorado’s Offseason

The Rapids let go of head coach Pablo Mastroeni and replaced him with 36-year-old Anthony Hudson who previously coached the New Zealand National Team. So far Hudson is 0-1-0 in MLS play and 0-1-1 in Champions League play.

As for players, just this week they added striker Yannick Boli from the Ivory Coast (which they may have used SKC’s international roster spot to make that move). Also added to the attack were Jack McBean (LA Galaxy), Johan Blomberg (AIK Solna), Joe Mason and Jack Price ( both from Wolverhampton Wanders).

On the defensive side they made quite a few additions with former USMNT player Edgar Castillo (Atlas), Kip Colvey (San Jose Earthquakes), Tommy Smith (Ipswich Town), Danny Wilson (Rangers — and formerly linked to SKC) and Deklan Wynne (Vancouver Whitecaps).

As for subtractions from the roster, there weren’t many notable moves. They lost Mohammed Saeid who went back to Europe and Josh Gatt, the former US International who came over as a part of a trade with Minnesota United in 2017.

Injuries

Sporting KC

OUT: None

QUESTIONABLE: Brad Evans (back), Gianluca Busio (eye), Amer Didic (ankle)

Colorado

OUT: Kortne Ford (left MCL sprain), Shkelzen Gashi (calf injury)

QUESTIONABLE: None

Suspensions

Sporting KC - None

Colorado - None

International Call-Ups

Sporting KC - Daniel Salloi (Hungary U-21’s)

Colorado - None

Statistics

Sporting KC

Goals: Felipe Gutierrez (3), Graham Zusi, Ilie Sanchez, Johnny Russell, Jimmy Medranda (1)

Assists: Daniel Salloi (3), Johnny Russell, Rogers Espinoza (2)

Colorado

Goals: Niki Jackson (1)

Assists: Johan Blomberg (1)

Starting XI Predictions

After making three changes between the opening loss to New York City FC and the game against the Chicago Fire, Peter Vermes has held firm on the lineup after getting two straight wins. He won’t be able to this week as Salloi is away with Hungary preparing for his second game with the U-21’s on Monday the 26th of March. With his swagger and creativity out of the lineup, changes have to be made.

Yohan Croizet started on the right wing in Week 1 with Russell out left. I still contend, as I believe one of our community members stated, they were simply forcing him on the field because he’s a Designated Player and the signing of Felipe Gutierrez makes playing him in the midfield untenable. I think he is more likely to get a surprise start at center forward than to return to the wing.

The logical replacement is former DP and a mainstay in the 2017 starting lineup, Gerso Fernandes. Gerso has only 71 minutes across three appearances in 2018 but outside of his brief three minute appearance last week, he’s looked dangerous. He should start.

Barring an injury, the only other position that may be in question is who plays center forward. I went through all the options this week, but it’s hard to imagine Vermes making a change when things are working well. It could be argued the team is playing well despite Khiry Shelton, but I imagine he’s the guy again.

I personally am open to Diego Rubio returning to the lineup after the effort he showed with the Swope Park Rangers last weekend. He got a goal (thanks to Belmar’s sick pass) despite a tentative first half. It seems he can do all the things Shelton is doing (besides grow five inches) and worst case you can pull him if it’s not going well. I’m definitely hoping whoever starts that Croizet gets minutes as the backup center forward or false nine. He showed a spark if he can only calm himself down out on the pitch.

Wouldn’t you know the site I was using for this is dead. We have made due.

Rest of the 18: Zendejas, Rubio, Croizet, Medranda, Amor, Lindsey, Belmar

Depending what happens with the center forward fall out and who starts on the wing, the best option off the bench this week could be USL Player of the Week Kharlton Belmar. With two goals and two assists in the snow against Reno 1868 last week, he’s probably earned some sub minutes for Sporting KC. He’s got the speed and technical ability to come on and do what Gerso has done late in prior games.

[The fan vote is in and we agree 100% based on the lineup I put out above. The top vote getters are once again newcomers Russell and Gutierrez (98.9%). With the defensive lapses Ike Opara has slipped down to a season low 91.1% of the vote. The left back debate seems to nearly be over with Seth Sinovic running away with the vote this week (84.4%). And the surprise of the week is Croizet getting 28.9% of the vote to take one of the three forward spots -- he is hoping it’s center forward you all want and not winger.]

I finally got a prediction right last week (the win, not the score) so I’ve improved to 1-2 on the year. While I’m always hopeful, Colorado barely lost to New England on the road on a 93rd minute goal. In their single MLS game (albeit against the Revs) they rank first in duels won, tackles won, interceptions and clearances. They have been a good defensive team for a while and with their new three-man backline that doesn’t appear to be changing.

It seems quite possible they won’t quite have things figured out yet, which is why it’s often nice to play teams that make so many changes very early in the season. They’ve had two more weeks to work with their new coach and they’ll be at home. It’s odd to say Dick’s Sporting Goods Park is a fortress since the fan support, outside of their rabid supporter’s group, is abysmal. It just feels like Sporting are due for a letdown.

Prediction: 1-1 Draw

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.