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Sporting KC v Atlanta United: Preview, Predictions, Injuries & Starting XI

The best in the East meet the best in the West.

MLS: Atlanta United FC at Sporting KC Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Sporting KC @ Atlanta United (#ATLvSKC)

Wednesday, May 9, 2018 at 6:30 PM CT

Fox Sports KC | ESPN+

The first mid-week game of the season for Sporting Kansas City will be a tough one. Sporting KC will go on the road to face the best team in the league in Atlanta United. It will be a battle of the best team in the East versus the best team in the West. But in the eyes of MLSsoccer.com analyst Matthew Doyle, there is a huge gap between these two clubs. While he conceded that SKC are the best in the West he said “there is a gulf between the top four in the east and anybody in the West.” For what it’s worth, Kansas City are second in the Supporters’ Shield race.

SKC will be out to prove Doyle, and others, wrong come Wednesday. It will mark the first time that Sporting have been to Mercedes-Benz Stadium and only the second time these two teams have ever met. Last year, Sporting KC were winning until the 91st minute when the defense fell asleep and former player Jacob “The Answer” Peterson snuck in an equalizing goal. Peterson is currently unemployed so at least he can’t cost the team points.

That said, the team most changed from 2017 is not the second year club Atlanta, but SKC. In 2017, this was the starting lineup for SKC: Tim Melia; Saad Abdul-Salaam, Ike Opara, Matt Besler, Seth Sinovic; Roger Espinoza, Ilie Sanchez, Cristian Lobato; Gerso, Latif Blessing, Daniel Salloi.

Latif was the center forward. Lobato was the attacking midfielder (until Benny Feilhaber replaced him at the half). SAS was the right back. With Zusi in at RB, Medranda in the midfield and Johnny Russell on the wing, Sporting should be more dangerous. But one very important thing is different for Atlanta, they didn’t have leading scorer Josef Martinez. And they were playing on the road.

This season they are 4-0-1 at home and they’ve scored multiple goals in every game at home including a five goal game, two four goal games and a three goal game. They are dangerous. They are fast. They are really good. They also play again on Sunday, so here is to hoping they rest their stars.

Atlanta’s Offseason

Atlanta spent some money this offseason. First, they paid $15 million for 18-year-old Ezequiel Barco who scored his first goal last week after dealing with injury. Then, they gave up more than $1 million in allocation money for former Portland Timbers midfielder Darlington Nagbe. Plus they added Franco Escobar to play fullback, where he was expected to compete with former SKC man Sal Zizzo but Zizzo hasn’t seen much of the field (though watch for him be a late sub to score a back-breaking goal).

As far as subtractions from their roster there was the bizarre trade of retired Kenwyne Jones to Sporting KC in a bit of Expansion Draft wierdness. More importantly they lost loanee Yamil Asad who surfaced with D.C. United. Outside of Asad their likely biggest lost is Carlos Carmona who played one of their holding midfield roles but returned to Colo-Colo in Chile. And of course we cannot forget the aforementioned Peterson.

Injuries

Sporting KC

OUT: Felipe Gutierrez (sports hernia surgery) — out 2-3 months

QUESTIONABLE: Adrian Zendejas (head injury)

Atlanta

OUT: Jose Hernandez (quad strain), Mitch Hildebrandt (left knee sprain), Alec Kann (left knee injury)

QUESTIONABLE: Franco Escobar (thorax injury), Chris McCann (hamstring)

Suspensions

Sporting KC - None

Atlanta - None (Chris McCann suspended next yellow card). It could be argued Barco could have gotten a red for his challenge on Dax McCarthey last weekend but he only got yellow).

Statistical Leaders

Sporting KC

Goals: Felipe Gutierrez, Johnny Russell (5), Jimmy Medranda, Ilie Sanchez, Graham Zusi, Daniel Salloi (2)

Assists: Roger Espinoza (5), Daniel Salloi (4), Johnny Russell, Khiry Shelton (2)

Atlanta

Goals: Josef Martinez (7), Miguel Almiron (6), Kevin Kratz (2)

Assists: Miguel Almiron (5), Julian Gressel (3), Hector Villalba, Greg Garza, Darlington Nagbe (2)

Starting XI Predictions

Some are expecting heavy squad rotation for Sporting’s first mid-week game, but I’m not buying it. After Wednesday there are no more games for 11 days when SKC hit the second leg of this mini road trip with a stop to play Minnesota United.

There are some players that have been run ragged that may need a rest, or at least to not start. Johnny Russell looks absolutely exhausted at about the 60th minute of every game. Atlanta plays on turf and that’s tough of tired legs (see: New England Revolution). I wouldn’t mind Russell being a sub instead of a starter and if he’s needed, he’s ready and then Gerso could get some real minutes. Plus Gerso is likely not 90 minutes fit coming off his thigh contusion.

I expect Khiry Shelton will keep starting at center forward despite his inability to score (even if the net is wide open — off his head and heel). His defensive work-rate is top notch and that’ll be needed Wednesday. That leaves Salloi, who despite only putting in one of his chances Saturday, was the Audi Index Player of the Week and had one of his best games.

At left back, even though I was shockingly correct with Cristian Lobato starting last week, I expect Seth Sinovic to get the nod Wednesday. He is far better defensively. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him staying home a little more so he doesn’t get beat by that ridiculous Atlanta counter-attack. Plus, all the attacking creativity seems to come up the right side of the pitch anyways.

The only other position in question for me is Ike Opara. He’s played lights out. There is just always that question of playing him on turf, especially on short rest. Emiliano Amor played will in his lone start for Ike, but he only had 40 minutes before the Vancouver Whitecaps put themselves down two men and made defense optional for Sporting. It’s probably the smart thing to do player safety-wise, but dangerous thing to do with that potent Atlanta attack.

Rest of the 18: Dick, Rubio, Lobato, Opara, Evans, Croizet, Russell

Opara will probably start, but I’ve moved him to the bench. Same for Russell. The real bench questions are if Jaylin Lindsey will finally get more time with Swope Park Rangers instead of rotting on the bench which probably depends on Brad Evans health. He played for SPR two weeks ago then was nowhere to be found last weekend. The other question is if Zendejas can sit the bench so Eric Dick can travel with SPR (who also played Wednesday — odd scheduling).

[The fan vote is in and it’s much closer this week. Sinovic has a slight lead 44% to 34% over Lobato at left back. Besler, Opara and Zusi ran away with their categories but Amor did get 12% of the vote compared to usually getting nearly none. The midfield isn’t quite as close (I removed Gutierrez as an option with last week’s injury news). Medranda has 64% to Croizet’s 40%. At forward Salloi and Russell are runaway winners but Khiry’s lack of goals have the natives restless. Shelton has 42% to Rubio’s 36%. Gerso also picked up 22% which I imagine will climb as he gets more fit.]

As for picking a winner, a lot comes down to the lineups for me. With Atlanta United going on the road to face their rival Orlando City this week, it’s possible they rest some starters mid-week since playing teams in your own conference carry more weight than playing across conferences. Even if Atlanta don’t run their starters out, they will be competitive at home. They have so many attacking options they are bound to find the back of the net. For the sake of making a prediction and avoiding a jinx, I’ll say they will win at home. But if they actually rest their players, it’s anyways guess. Even if they play their starters, Sporting KC are good enough to beat them, it’s just a tall order on short rest.

Prediction: 2-1 Atlanta United Win

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.