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US Open Cup: Sporting KC v Real Salt Lake Preview

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Sporting look to defend their Open Cup title.

MLS: Sporting KC at Real Salt Lake Jeff Swinger-USA TODAY Sports

Sporting KC @ Real Salt Lake (#RSLvSKC)

Wednesday, June 6, 2018 at 9:00 PM CT

How to Watch: USsoccer.com Match Center Page

Location: Rio Tinto Stadium — Sandy, UT

The Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup defending champions Sporting Kansas City will have to head on the road to face Real Salt Lake as both clubs join the tournament in the fourth round of action. Sporting KC are coming off a 4-1 beating they handed Minnesota United on Sunday. Real Salt Lake had one more day of rest as they are coming off a 2-0 win over the Seattle Sounders on Saturday.

That one day would seem to benefit RSL as Sporting are playing their second game in four days (with a third coming on Saturday against the Portland Timbers). However, Salt Lake just played three games in eight days and this will be a fourth game in 12 days. And RSL are hot as they’ve won all three of those games bringing their 2018 home record to 6-1-0. Did we mention this game is in Rio Tinto Stadium?

When we look at the head-to-head numbers between SKC and RSL it’s two different tales. In league play, Sporting are an abysmal 1-5-3 over their last nine meetings with Salt Lake. However, in the last two meetings outside of league play, Sporting KC have won both meetings. A penalty kick shootout win in the 2013 MLS Cup and a 3-1 victory in the 2015 US Open Cup semi-final.

Who will actually play in this game?

The real decider in this game could be what sort of lineups these two teams put on the field. In 2017 Real Salt Lake were the victims of a #Cupset to the USL’s Sacramento Republic FC. They lost 4-1, though they basically loaned the entirety of the Real Monarchs up to play that game. In 2015, against the Seattle Sounders, RSL also put out a lineup filled with backups. They lost. Trying to fix that, they put out their starters in 2016 also against the Sounders, but they lost again.

Sporting on the other hand tend to play a pretty first choice lineup.

Before we go any further, a quick reminder around the rules for loaning players from USL teams to MLS clubs. During the regular season they can only be done in the case of extreme hardships but it changes during the Open Cup.

The last rule is of no concern. Since Sporting KC are fantastic at getting green cards for their players (too good in the case of Latif Blessing) they only have six internationals on the team and Felipe Gutierrez is definitely out, so they could play all five (if they aren’t hurt) if they wanted to.

Every year media and fans torture themselves toying around with USL players and bench players who could finally get on the field and then Peter Vermes puts out a first choice lineup. A complicating factor for this game is that Sporting played Sunday instead of Saturday, so there is one less day of rest and they have a bunch of injuries.

Injuries

Sporting KC

OUT: Felipe Gutierrez (sports hernia surgery), Yohan Croizet (hamstring), Seth Sinovic (hamstring), Jimmy Medranda (bone bruise in leg)

QUESTIONABLE: Khiry Shelton (thigh), Brad Evans (thigh)

Real Salt Lake

OUT: Tony Beltran (right knee surgery), Jordan Allen (knee injury), Alex Horwath (Achilles surgery), Shawn Barry (knee), Demar Phillips (ankle injury), Luke Mulholland (back injury)

QUESTIONABLE: Joao Plata (quad injury)

First for Salt Lake’s injuries. Plata started on Saturday but left the game in the 41st minute with an injury. It seems unlikely he’d be available. They have quite a few other injuries, but fatigue seems like it could be a greater factor.

Starting XI

As for Sporting KC, their injuries really throw the “first choice” part of the lineup into a bit of a mess. I’m going to go with limited subs with the FIFA World Cup starting after these next two games. Let’s start in the back, where Sporting KC have quietly become the second best defense in the league allowing just 1.00 GAA per game. Quite the turnaround from the beginning of the season.

The real debate here is who starts at left back. Medranda is hurt. Sinovic left the game Sunday injured after pounding on the ground. But instead of Cristian Lobato sliding back into that role, 18-year-old right back Jaylin Lindsey made his pro debut. Lindsey has probably earned another run out but on which side? Does he go to his preferred right or play out of position at the left? I’ll say he is on the bench and Lobato on the left with Graham Zusi on the right. I’d probably not prefer Lobato playing defense but Vermes keeps putting him on the field.

At CB Matt Besler never sits, but one sub I could see being made is Emiliano Amor for Ike Opara. He only has one start over Ike (Opara was sick) and it was the Vancouver Whitecaps game where they got double red cards, so he wasn’t really tested. With Opara’s injury history, playing him too much seems unwise and Amor is making a good chunk of money to never get played. Open Cup is his chance.

The midfield is next and there have got to be some tired legs. So far in the 14 game regular season for Sporting KC 1,260 minutes are available to be played. Ilie Sanchez has played them all. Roger Espinoza has played 1,242 of them. A triple game week seems like the time to rest Espinoza. He’s 31 (to Ilie’s 27) and he has appeared worn down later in seasons. Vermes will probably start him, but I’d say Kuzain has earned Vermes’ trust and even though he plays Ilie’s role on SPR, he can play the #8 or #10 (and SKC play two #8s anyways) so he can move up (he scored a goal already).

Who to add to Ilie or Kuzain is the question. Croizet went down injured and that’s a quick turn around. 16-year-old Gianluca Busio seems like the obvious candidate. Ilie would be there to protect from any mistakes and he can more properly fill the #10 role.

On to the forwards. Daniel Salloi and Gerso just went 90 minutes. Gerso hadn’t played more than 35 minutes in a game all season and that was way back on March 10th. I’m not sure he has the gas to start again, but of all of Saturday’s starters he should be the most rested. Salloi played CF arguably better than anyone has all year but Minnesota are really bad so it’s tough to rate the performance. If you make me pick I’m going wild. Diego Rubio should start after his second goal of the campaign (in 103 minutes of MLS play no less). Gerso should be on one wing and Kharlton Belmar should get his first start. He has eight goals in eight appearances with the Swope Park Rangers. He deserves it.

[Update 6/5/18: Rubio is apparently suspended from a kick-out that the referee missed in the US Open Cup Final last year against the New York Red Bulls. So scrap all that stuff I said. Salloi starts out of necessity as Shelton likely is unavailable until Saturday]

As for goalkeeper... they don’t get tired. Start Tim Melia.

The forgotten Rubio suspension (whoops) makes this lineup a lot closer to this past Sunday’s. Which is probably more accurate anyways. And let’s be honest, Espinoza is gonna start too.

Rest of the 18

First, Johnny Russell. Outside of Gutierrez, probably the best player for Sporting this year — at least offensively. He just played 90 minutes at altitude against Mexico, but I imagine he’ll be on the bench for a spark.

Second, Swope Park Rangers loanees. There are two SPR players who could be ready off the bench. Felipe Hernandez and Rodrigo Saravia. Saravia is a Guatemalan International and would take up one of the five slots. Both players were held out of Saturday’s loss to St. Louis FC. With all the midfield injuries, these two are options. I’m confident Hernandez is here, less so for Saravia.

If they are truly resting Ike, Amer Didic should be the backup CB. Lindsey should be the backup fullback. You have to have a keeper so bring Adrian Zendejas. Plus you need a second attacking option and Daniel Salloi is the most versatile as he can play the wing or center forward. [Update 6/5/18: With Salloi being forced to start over the suspended Rubio attacking depth is lacking. Maybe Lobato starts over Belmar and Lindsey is in at fullback giving the team Belmar off the bench. Yeah, that’s it!]

[As of this writing, the fan vote is all over the place. Melia ran away with the keeper vote, though Zendejas and Dick got votes. The highest defensive vote getter was Lindsey at 80% with Zusi, Amor and Besler rounding out the lineup (literally every defender — including Colton Storm — got votes outside of Matt Lewis). The midfield was Kuzain (93.3%) with Espinoza and Ilie. Busio only got 4.4%. Forwards were razor close with Gerso (80%), Rubio (66.7%) and Salloi (48.9%) winning with Belmar fourth at 44.4%. Busio had way more forward votes (20%). The consensus is no one knows anything.

Prediction

Salt Lake are so good at home. Both teams are tired and banged up so you never know. I’ll say the team that scores first will win. I hope it’s Sporting KC but they don’t seem to win back-to-back Open Cups. I’ll say RSL earns more hate and sends Sporting packing so they can focus on MLS Cup and the Supporters Shield. RSL 2 - 1 SKC.