Sporting KC @ Montreal Impact (#MTLvSKC)
Saturday, June 30, 2018 at 6:00 PM CT
Fox Sports KC | ESPN + | Sports Radio 810 WHB
Would you be surprised to hear that over the last five games, Sporting Kansas City and the Montreal Impact have exactly the same number of points? I know I was. The Impact are widely regarded as one of the worst teams in the league but they have won three of their last four games. Though there is a big asterisk. They have won back-to-back games for only the second time this season but this time they beat lowly Orlando City SC who are in the midst of a seven game losing streak (side note: why can’t Sporting land a game against them now instead of September 9th).
The Impact have earned their universal derision. They are in 9th in the East with just 18 points through 17 games (6-11-0). Somehow, they’ve managed to not tie a single game this season (so this will be the week of course). Four of their six wins are at home, where this game will take place.
Sporting KC, as you all undoubtedly know, are in first place in the Western Conference (with a three point lead over FC Dallas who have a game in hand) and are in second place in the Supporters Shield race with Atlanta United (though SKC are down only two points with a game in hand). The game against Montreal marks a mini-road trip that includes flying all the way to Quebec Saturday, then over to Utah to face Real Salt Lake on Wednesday (I love that MLS is trying to make July 4th their holiday).
On the road SKC are vastly improved over 2017 with a 3-1-3 record. The Impact are no slouches at home though as they are averaging 1.71 points per game. They have lost three times, but the average stays up due to the lack of draws. Recent history between these clubs favors Sporting KC who are unbeaten in six straight (4-0-2) and have put in 14 goals over that time. 14 goals by SKC teams that were far worse at scoring goals than the 2018 version of this team is.
Montreal’s Roster Changes
The biggest change for Montreal was probably the trade of Laurent Ciman to LAFC. The former Defensive Player of the Year has been missed as the Impact have allowed 31 goals, the fourth worst in the league. In general they just have a ton of turnover defensively. They also lost Ambroise Oyongo, Hassoun Camara and Shaun Francis.
To replace those defenders they traded for Jukka Raitala (LAFC by way of the Columbus Crew because of the expansion draft) and signed Michael Petrasso (from Queens Park Rangers) and Rod Fanni. Otherwise they have a mix of veterans still around.
The biggest impact signing (see what I did there) is probably Jeisson Andrés Vargas. He’s just 20-years-old and already has four goals which is good for 2nd on the team. The person who was supposed to be the key addition is Saphir Taider, the Designated Player from Bologna. He has a goal and three assists, but probably was expected to make a bigger impact. The lack of a true #9 who can score (sound familiar) seems to be hurting Taider.
Another important piece for the future at Montreal is Raheem Edwards who was also drafted by LAFC in the expansion draft (from Toronto FC) and then traded over. He’s young and promising but hasn’t had a breakout yet.
OUT: Felipe Gutierrez (sports hernia surgery), Cristian Lobato (knee), Jimmy Medranda (bone bruise in leg), Gianluca Busio (hamstring)
QUESTIONABLE: Matt Besler (hamstring)
OUT: Zakaria Diallo (ruptured Achilles tendon), Kyle Fisher (tibia injury), Victor Cabrera (calf injury), David Choiniere (ankle surgery), Louis Beland-Goyette (foot injury)
QUESTIONABLE: Jeisson Vargas (undisclosed injury)
Sporting KC - None
Montreal - None
Sporting KC - None
Montreal - None (Samuel Piette suspended next yellow card)
Goals: Felipe Gutierrez, Johnny Russell, Daniel Salloi (5) Diego Rubio (3), Cristian Lobato, Jimmy Medranda, Ilie Sanchez, Graham Zusi, Khiry Shelton (2)
Assists: Roger Espinoza, Daniel Salloi (6) Johnny Russell (5), Ilie Sanchez (3), Khiry Shelton, Gerso, Yohan Croizet (2)
I saw an interesting stat from MLSsoccer.com that I just need to share. Roger Espinoza has created 35 chances from open play. That’s best for second in the league behind Diego Fagundez of the New England Revolution.
Goals: Ignacio Piatti (8), Jeisson Vargas (4), Anthony Jackson-Hamel, Raheem Edwards (2)
Assists: Ignacio Piatti (6), Alejandro Silva, Daniel Lovitz, Saphir Taider, Samuel Piette (3)
Sporting KC - D/D/W/D/W (9 points)
Montreal - L/W/L/W/W (9 points)
Starting XI Predictions
Where it comes to who starts, there is a lot in play this week. First, there is schedule congestion. Sporting will play three games in nine days starting Saturday. Away to Montreal, Wednesday on the road at Real Salt Lake and then back home the following Sunday to face Toronto FC. People won’t like this, but I’d put out a backup heavy lineup Wednesday since Sporting are abysmal in Utah and play starters in the other two. Sure Toronto and Montreal are in the East, but they are infinitely more winnable games.
The second issue is who plays center forward. Khiry Shelton had been the man starting every game since the second of the season through the Columbus Crew game on Memorial Day weekend. He then picked up an injury and hasn’t started since. He was in the 18 and came on as a sub against FC Dallas and the Houston Dynamo but in between Daniel Salloi, Diego Rubio and Kharlton Belmar have all started at the #9. It’s worked out really well as Sporting have won four of five with the only draw coming on the road in Portland.
Since Vermes always likes to stick to what’s working, he probably should hold to that, though this will likely be the week he goes back to Shelton since I’m saying he won’t. That puts Gerso and Russell out to the wings with the ability to bring on Rubio, Shelton or Belmar and shift around the front three as necessary. I would like to see Russell get some rest (at least sub him off earlier) since he’s now played a year straight and the season will officially be only half way over after this weekend.
Yohan Croizet has earned his spot back in the starting lineup in my opinion. He’s looked much improved and maybe he’s finally figuring out the speed and physicality of MLS. He’ll of course be joined by Ilie and Espinoza.
The only other real questions are on the back line. Matt Besler missed another game with a hamstring injury and muscle injuries are never things you want to rush. A re-aggravation would be a bit of a downer but then again, it was reported that Besler was going to be a game day decision last time, making me think he’s close. I’ll guess he’s back, but there are plenty of options behind him, like Emiliano Amor off his “psychological rest.”
The other position in question is left back. Medranda and Lobato are unlikely to be available but Seth Sinovic just played 90 minutes for the Swope Park Rangers on Sunday. Supposedly he’s healthy (though he looked to be struggling to me, though it could just be because he’s not 90 minutes fit). If he’s really healthy Vermes probably goes that direction. Though I don’t think he is and Jaylin Lindsey has played all the minutes since subbing on back on June 3rd against Minnesota United. He’s also improving with his left foot. Play Lindsey.
Rest of the 18: Zendejas, Rubio, Amor, Sinovic, Kuzain, Belmar, Shelton
[The fan vote has just one difference. Shelton in at center forward and Salloi out to the wing pushing Gerso to the bench. The Shelton love is really growing but as community member Chzbro (still hate that username) points out, Sporting KC have 12 goals in their last five games without Shelton starting. In the previous five that he started they scored four. Just sayin’. As for the rest of the voting, here are the top vote getting backups: Amor (38.7%), Sinovic (25.8%), Gerso (22.6%), Kuzain (12.9%) and Smith (12.9%).]
Stat of the Week: The Montreal Impact have only won a single game in which they allowed a goal. Sporting Kansas City just has to score to win (maybe).
While this game feels like a classic trap game with a busy week ahead against a hated rival in RSL, I just can’t bring myself to believing in Montreal. When you beat a terrible Orlando team twice, your numbers are inflated. And their numbers are still terrible. That said, Piatti could pull out some magic at any moment.