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Sporting KC v Houston Dynamo: Preview, Predictions, Injuries & Starting XI

A rematch of the knockout round of the MLS Cup playoffs.

MLS: Western Conference Knockout Round-Sporting KC at Houston Dynamo Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Sporting KC v Houston Dynamo (#SKCvHOU)

Saturday, June 23, 2018 at 7:30 PM CT

Fox Sports KC | ESPN + | Sports Radio 810 WHB

There is a bad taste in the collective mouths of everyone associated with Sporting Kansas City when it comes to the Houston Dynamo. The coaches, the players and the fans. Hell, even the media. Over the course of just over two weeks in October 2017, Sporting KC played the Dynamo three times.

The first meeting was a make-up game from an early postponement in Houston due to Hurricane Harvey. Sporting lost 2-1. Four days late, with the chance to host a MLS Cup Playoff game in the balance, SKC played their final home game of the season — again against Houston. It ended in a nil-nil draw. Then, because of those games (amongst others in the late season swoon) Sporting KC were forced onto the road in the first round of the playoffs only to be eliminated in the knockout round for the fourth straight year — this time by the Houston Dynamo with a 94th minute heartbreaking goal.

On Saturday, Sporting look to take a step towards righting those wrongs. It won’t be easy though. Kansas City haven’t beat the Dynamo in regular season play in their last seven tries at home (0-1-6). On top of that, they haven’t won in eight straight regular season games overall (0-4-4). The good news is the Dynamo are quite poor on the road. In 2018 they are a paltry 1-3-3 despite managing 11 goals over those games (1.57 goals per game). The 1-3-3 road record in 2018 is actually an improvement. In 2017 they were 1-9-7 on the road. They could eventually match that, but it seems unlikely.

A good team — as Sporting Kansas City must be considered since they are first in the Western Conference (8-2-5, 29 points) — doesn’t concern themselves with their opponent. They play their style and make their opponent deal with them. Sporting are currently riding an undefeated streak that stretches back over seven weeks (5-0-3). In fact, their only loss since the season opener was the bizarre deflection to Teal Bunbury that he put home while everyone else watched him be 5-yards offside.

Despite Houston being the 2nd best offense in the league (29 goals — 2.07 per game), Sporting KC are the league’s best defense (0.93 goals per game) including allowing in just five in their last 11 games. And while Houston are 11th in defense, Sporting are 6th in offense (1.87 goals per game). All these factors should lead up to an interesting game.

Houston’s Offseason

The Dynamo really haven’t changed much since Sporting last saw them. Erick “Cubo” Torres is out (transferred to Pumas UNAM), but besides a pretty good 2017, Torres never lived up to expectations. Former SKC man Jalil Anibaba left as well. Midfielder Alex. And domestic abuser (allegedly?) Tyler Deric (who got himself suspended during the playoffs). The other most notable departure is Vicente Sanchez, who contributed to eliminating SKC last year from the playoffs.

As far as additions go, it’s mostly about who they didn’t lose. Striker Alberth Elis is back and dominant as ever. Outside of him, they’ve mostly added roleplayers like midfielder Darwin Ceren in a trade with the San Jose Earthquakes or defender Alejandro Fuenmayor on a transfer from Carabobo FC. No one with any real name value, but likely important depth as the season wears on.

Injuries

Sporting KC

OUT: Felipe Gutierrez (sports hernia surgery), Cristian Lobato (knee), Jimmy Medranda (bone bruise in leg), Brad Evans (thigh), Gianluca Busio (hamstring)

QUESTIONABLE: Matt Besler (hamstring)

PROBABLE: Daniel Salloi (undisclosed injury)

Houston

OUT: A.J. DeLaGarza (torn left ACL), Andrew Wenger (calf injury), Dylan Remick (concussion), Darwin Ceren (leg injury), Mac Steeves (left hip injury), Juan David Cabezas (left quad injury)

PROBABLE: Jared Watts (concussion)

Suspensions

Sporting KC - None

Houston - None (Alberth Elis & Tomas Martinez suspended next yellow)

International Duty

Sporting KC - None

Houston - Adolfo Machado (Panama)

Statistical Leaders

Sporting KC

Goals: Felipe Gutierrez, Johnny Russell (5), Daniel Salloi (4), Cristian Lobato, Diego Rubio, Jimmy Medranda, Ilie Sanchez, Graham Zusi (2)

Assists: Roger Espinoza (6), Daniel Salloi (4), Ilie Sanchez, Johnny Russell (3), Khiry Shelton, Gerso, Yohan Croizet (2)

Houston

Goals: Alberth Elis (8), Mauro Manotas (6), Tomas Martinez (4), Romell Quioto (3)

Assists: Romell Quioto (6), Alberth Elis (5), Boniek Garcia, Tomas Martinez (4)

Recent Performances

Sporting KC - W/D/D/W/D (9 Points)

Houston - W/W/L/L/W (9 Points)

Starting XI Predictions

By my estimation, there are three positions that are really up for grabs this weekend. Center forward, the midfield position next to Espinoza and left back. Let’s start up top.

Khiry Shelton is apparently healthy and a full go in practice this week. Despite people — including Vermes — wanting to bring up that Sporting KC only have one loss with Shelton in the starting lineup, the fact is the team only has two losses all year. So it’s not like they are losing a ton either way. I don’t think that’s enough reason to start Shelton over Rubio or even Salloi, but my gut says Vermes will start him. As discussed before, I like him as an option off the bench to kill off a game with his hustling once the team is in the lead. PV and I will likely agree to disagree on this one.

The next spot is the midfield spot that isn’t played by Ilie and Espinoza. It’s been a bit of a revolving door due to injuries. It’s Felipe Gutierrez’s spot if and when he gets healthy. Croizet slid in after his absence but alternated a bit with Medranda until he was hurt and forced him back to the sideline. Then Croizet got injured and Kuzain would step in. If Croizet is healthy I expect Vermes will start him. I would not start him due to his propensity to turn the ball over. Much like Shelton, I like him on late, but not to preserve a lead but to chase a goal. Kuzain, while less dynamic, is more consistent and safe with the ball. A good asset against a Houston team just waiting to hit you on the counter. I’ll say Kuzain starts, though my gut tells me I’m wrong.

Then that brings us to left back. Medranda and Lobato are still listed as out but Seth Sinovic is supposedly healthy. One would expect he resumes his starting role and Jaylin Lindsey returns to the bench to be his and Zusi’s backup.

The only other position in question is Matt Besler’s center back start, which really comes down to health. Emiliano Amor had a rough outing in the Open Cup against Dallas misplaying passes in bad spots but he showed flashes of what could make him a great starter one day. If he cleans up the mistakes, he’d be a fine replacement if Besler isn’t ready to go.

So again, I’d bench Shelton. Probably for Rubio, but I’ll still say Vermes starts him.

Rest of the 18: Dick, Rubio, Amor, Lindsey, Croizet, Belmar, Gerso

As guys continue to get healthy, hopefully we’ll start seeing more loans to the Swope Park Rangers again. The players need the minutes and the Rangers need some help.

[The fan vote is similar but with two changes. You all have Lindsey starting again — possibly because when the voting started it was unclear if Sinovic was healthy. And you (likely correctly) have Croizet starting over Kuzain. Everything else is the same and it’s not really close. The highest vote getting non-starter on each line are Sinovic (22.4%), Kuzain (22.4%) and Gerso (20.7%). Tim Melia was unanimous (finally). ]

These teams are about to embark on a stretch where they play each other three times in the next six weeks (including the July 18th US Open Cup game). This is Sporting KC’s only home game of the three so getting all three points will be crucial. On the other hand, Houston are currently one spot below the red line as the season approaches the midpoint. They are in seventh sitting on 21 points (6-5-3).

I’m a sucker for streaks, so I’ll say Houston keeps frustrating KC at home.

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.