Sporting KC @ Portland Timbers (#PORvSKC)
Saturday, June 9, 2018 at 9:30 PM CT
Fox Sports KC | ESPN +
On Saturday, Sporting Kansas City will continue their mini-road trip across the Western United States. First they played a backup heavy lineup to score a 2-0 victory over a backup heavy Real Salt Lake team. Now they travel further west (and north) to face the Portland Timbers who are quite hot as of late. The Timbers had won six in a row before stumbling to a home draw against the LA Galaxy last weekend. Much like Sporting KC, Portland won their US Open Cup game, except they had it at home and didn’t really play any starters.
The rested starters and their home form (4-0-1) may give them an advantage since Sporting KC started and played for 90 minutes regular starters Ilie, Matt Besler and Johnny Russell. They also subbed on regular starters Roger Espinoza and Daniel Salloi despite the team being ahead at the time.
That rest may matter because Portland are quite good at home. They haven’t lost there this year at all and only lost there twice last year, though one of those games was a 1-0 defeat to SKC way back on April 15th, 2017. Going into this weekend, Sporting KC currently sit 1st in the Western Conference (8-2-4, 28 Points) while Portland has recovered from their 0-3-2 start to climb up to 5th (6-3-3, 21 Points).
Let’s start with the subtractions. The biggest player leaving the Pacific Northwest has to be Darlington Nagbe. He went to Atlanta United for a lot of money (not Dom Dwyer to Orlando City money, but a lot). The next biggest piece that was traded away was Darren Mattocks to D.C. United. Outside of that Sporting KC fans will recognize Chance Myers and maybe Amobi Okugo as former SKC players.
As for the pieces they’ve added, central among them (literally) is center forward Samuel Armenteros who is on loan from Benevento Calcio. You may remember him as the striker who came on in the preseason finale against SKC and quickly scored twice. He appears to have a line on Fanendo Adi’s job and already has three goals in just 352 minutes played (Adi has two in 721 minutes).
Another important addition is midfielder Cristhian Paredes who the team got from Liga MX side Club America. Paredes is on loan but is just 20-years-old and has already proved fairly effective. The last player of note is one who has yet to make his league debut. Eryk Williamson signed a Homegrown deal on the heels of representing the United States at the U-20 World Cup.
OUT: Felipe Gutierrez (sports hernia surgery), Brad Evans (thigh), Yohan Croizet (hamstring), Seth Sinovic (hamstring), Jimmy Medranda (bone bruise in leg)
QUESTIONABLE: Khiry Shelton (thigh)
OUT: Roy Miller (left Achilles tendon injury), Jake Gleeson (back injury)
QUESTIONABLE: Liam Ridgewell (right quad injury), Jack Barmby (right lower leg injury), Vytas (right thigh injury), Jeremy Ebobisse (right thigh injury), Alvas Powell (left thigh injury)
Sporting KC - None
Portland - Diego Chara (yellow card accumulation)
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)
Goals: Diego Valeri (6), Sebastian Blanco (5), Samuel Armenteros (3), Fanendo Adi (2)
Assists: Cristhian Paredes, Diego Valeri, Sebastian Blanco (3), Andres Flores, Fanendo Adi, Alvas Powell (2)
Sporting KC - W/W/D/D/W (11 Points)
Portland - W/W/W/W/D (13 Points)
Starting XI Predictions
Portland should be putting out a first choice lineup other than suspended Diego Chara. Who Sporting puts on the field could vary pretty wildly based on who is healthy enough to go. Muscle injuries, like those picked up by Sinvoic, Croizet, Shelton and Evans aren’t easy to overcome and can be easily re aggravated.
Hopefully Medranda will be available to return to left back because the team went from having a dearth of LB options to being down to just Cristian Lobato, who suddenly seems a lot more confident on the right wing than he ever has anywhere else on the field. I’ll cross my fingers and say Medranda can go (which is probably wrong) so Lobato doesn’t have to be the fullback. Jaylin Lindsey has stepped up admirably in the last week, but asking him to play out of position against a much more dangerous Portland attack seems like a recipe for disaster.
The rest of the backline should be the regulars; Besler, Opara and Zusi. Of course Melia’s back in goal. That brings us to the midfield. Despite zero rest, I expect Ilie to start and Espinoza to be right there with him. The question who plays the other midfield role. The only healthy midfielders on the roster are Kuzain and Gianluca Busio. Russell can technically play the #10 role but with all the minutes he’s put in and the fact that it’s on turf, he seems like a much better option to bring off the bench instead. I’ll say Kuzain gets it after his darling performance against Minnesota last weekend.
That brings us to the forwards. With my above instinct to rest Russell (or at least just leave him as a super sub) after all these games so close together and playing on that turf (right Cody?!?!) I say you stick with what worked last time. Run out Salloi at CF with Gerso and Lobato on the wings. If Lobato doesn’t show the form from last weekend, Russell (and Belmar or Rubio) are ready to go. Personally I’d start Belmar on the wing because he’s even better there than he is at CF but I doubt Vermes will do that. In the dying minutes of the RSL game, you could hear Vermes losing his mind when Belmar either shot or lost possession (I forget) in RSL’s 18-yard-box instead of killing the clock.
Rest of the 18: Zendejas, Rubio, Russell, Amor, Lindsey, Busio, Belmar
The bench is full of firepower if a goal is needed and Lindsey has now shown he can be the reserve at either fullback spot. The real bench issue is there are no midfielders besides Busio if injuries strike again. If Medranda is healthy, he Lobato and Zusi are all capable of moving centrally and even Russell can play the #10. You can see why Vermes loves positional diversity.
[The fan vote is looking a bit wonky. As in, there were more votes than page views on that article. I say we all blame Ben (@BenG_Sports) and try again next time. Or you can go vote again, I cleared the results. ]
The Timbers are 0-11-6 without Chara in the lineup, including six of those games coming at home. They are also -21 in goal differential in those games. Sporting KC should really find a way to take advantage of that. However, Sporting have been inconsistent in finding the back of the net outside the Minnesota win and backup filled RSL win. Excluding Minnesota, they have just five goals in the previous five league games. If they only score once against Portland that may not be enough.