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

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The defending Lamar Hunt US Open Cup Champions head on the road for the quarterfinal

MLS: Houston Dynamo at Sporting KC Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

Sporting KC @ Houston Dynamo (#HOUvSKC)

Wednesday, July 18, 2018 at 7:30 PM CT

How to Watch: USsoccer.com OR SportingKC.com

The Lamar Hunt US Open Cup is a weird place. Some teams, like Sporting Kansas City, take it very seriously. SKC have won three of the last six US Open Cups (2012, 2015, 2017) and if they win this year, they’ll tie the original Bethlehem Steel and Maccabi Los Angeles as all-time leaders with five. They are already tied with modern era leaders Chicago Fire and the Seattle Sounders with four titles.

Another thing that’s weird about the tournament is that teams down on their regular season luck can still try to get a trophy. Houston is the only team on the West side of the bracket below the playoff line (currently 7th). LAFC and the Portland Timbers are who await the winner of SKC/HOU are clearly contenders. On the Eastern side though it’s a bit different. It’s the Philadelphia Union (7th), Chicago Fire (8th), Orlando City (9th) and defending USL Champions Louisville City FC. So the team in the West, no matter who they are, would appear to be the favorite to win the whole thing (though you never know).

The Houston Dynamo have a lot of history with Sporting KC when it comes to the Open Cup. This will mark the fourth straight year they’ve met in the tournament with them swapping wins back and forth. SKC won in 2017, Houston in 2016 and Sporting again in 2015. It would seem Houston is due.

Also, the game is in the sweltering heat and humidity of southeast Texas. The high will be 101 with humidity in the 50% range. Less than hospitable for a Sporting KC team that has looked very tired in recent weeks. Add to that the fact that Houston have been strong at home this year with a 6-2-1 home record in league play with those two losses coming very early in the season.

Injuries

Sporting KC

OUT: Jimmy Medranda (bone bruise in leg), Khiry Shelton (knee surgery), Cristian Lobato (knee tendinitis), Colton Storm (hamstring), Ike Opara (hamstring), Matt Besler (hamstring, back spasms)

QUESTIONABLE: Brad Evans (Achilles)

Houston

OUT: A.J. DeLaGarza (torn left ACL), M - Juan David Cabezas (left quad injury), M/D - Andrew Wenger (left calf injury), M - Arturo Alvarez (right hip injury)

QUESTIONABLE: None

Suspensions

Sporting KC - None

Houston - None

Statistical Leaders (Regular Season)

Sporting KC

Goals: Johnny Russell (7), Daniel Salloi (6), Felipe Gutierrez (5) Diego Rubio, Ilie Sanchez (3), Cristian Lobato, Jimmy Medranda, Graham Zusi, Khiry Shelton (2)

Assists: Roger Espinoza (8), Daniel Salloi, Johnny Russell (6), Ilie Sanchez, Graham Zusi (3), Khiry Shelton, Gerso, Yohan Croizet, Diego Rubio (2)

Houston

Goals: Alberth Elis, Mauro Manotas (9), Tomas Martinez, Philippe Senderos (4), Romell Quioto (2)

Assists: Quioto (10), Elis (7), Martinez (5), Boniek Garcia (4), DaMarcus Beasley, Eric Alexander (2)

Recent Performances (Open Cup Only)

Sporting KC - W/D/W/W/W (The San Jose PK win is technically a draw)

Houston - L/W/L/W/W (Those L’s are both SKC)

Starting XI Predictions

In last years Open Cup meeting Houston put out a subpar lineup and it took two very late goals from Sporting KC (who mostly played starters) to salvage the road win. Outside of that sketchy win, SKC are 0-5-0 in all competitions when playing in Houston recently. I say rest is worth more than throwing out tired starters who might (read: probably) lose anyways. As much as I’d like Sporting to be the all-time leader in Open Cup wins, rest feels worth more right now. Play the kids and play the backups and maybe it’ll work out.

The healthy player most in need of rest is Johnny Russell. Peter Vermes has talked repeatedly about not running him into the ground now that he’s had basically no time off for a year. He got two weeks off between Derby County and SKC preseason, he’d get two more if Vermes rests him Wednesday.

Vermes needs to heed his own advice as Russell hasn’t had a game off since the season started. Russell missed the Minnesota United game but he played for the Scottish National Team. He was on the bench for Real Salt Lake but brought on at the half. He even started after Scotland/Mexico in that Open Cup game. He has played at least 78 minutes in 17 of the 19 regular season games and has gone the full 90 in 10 games plus 88 or more in another four games. DON’T ABUSE OUR NEW FRIEND JOHNNY.

With that said, let’s remember that Sporting KC can get loaned players from the Swope Park Rangers for this game (though they play a game the same day, so it may not happen — SPR have been in bad form, maybe they should play their Academy kids as starters instead of late reserves). 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.

So on the front line I’d go with Diego Rubio (who frankly should be the regular starter but must be in the dog house). On the wings go with Kharlton Belmar and then... well that other spot has options. Gerso has played less than most, so he could get the run out. A good SPR loan option would be Hadji Barry. He’s a former Orlando City player who has tons of speed and strength (but an atrocious touch). He’s the best forward on SPR statistically so he could get a run out. I wouldn’t be stunned to see Daniel Salloi start (and I wouldn’t mind him next to Rubio to see what they can do together).

In the midfield, I’d go full youth movement. Gianluca Busio has been off the injury report for a bit, start him at the #10. Felipe Hernandez from the Rangers has been by far that teams best player this year that isn’t under contract with SKC, call him up. And let Wan Kuzain Wan Kamal move back to the #6 spot he plays for SPR and see what he can do. Ilie has gotten zero rest in 2018, Roger basically rests when he gets a red card. Play the kids!

On the back line the word is Besler and Opara aren’t likely to be ready to go. Amer Didic has been recovering from injury and seems out of favor so I say give Graham Smith and Emiliano Amor another run out. At right back Jaylin Lindsey should get his chance (as Zusi also hasn’t gotten rest) and Seth Sinovic can play left back as he hasn’t been getting consistent minutes.

Adrian Zendejas has started the other Open Cup games and I suspect that will continue, though of all the starters, Tim Melia back there could make a world of difference and as our own Cody Bradley says, goalkeepers are “trees” so I imagine trees don’t need to rest.

I fully expect Vermes to heed none of this advice but I think it’s clear that if this team does advance SKC will have to play backups and kids because the schedule gets real congested for the semi-final and final (unless Vermes is going to play backups in league games — which he has around the Open Cup before). Sporting need all the league points they can get, for once, let’s phone in the Open Cup.

Rest of the 18: Dick, Zusi, Gutierrez, Didic, Salloi, Croizet, Espinoza

I’m OK with some starters on the bench for that late push to win (if that opportunity exists) but not Russell. If he’s there, Vermes has shown he can’t stop himself from using him.

[The fan vote is not surprisingly all over the place with some wanting to rest and some wanting to go for it. So here is the Starting XI: Melia, Lindsey, Besler (Sinovic got more votes but I went with the next highest CB), Amor, Zusi, Ilie, Espinoza, Kuzain, Salloi, Rubio, Gerso. Now for how close it was, here are the next highest non-starters in voting: Sinovic (54.3%), Smith (43.5%), Zendejas (41.3%), Belmar (39.1%), Russell (37%), Gutierrez (34.8% — Felipe was accidently left off the poll on the first day of voting, so this is likely low), Croizet (32.6%), Opara (30.4%). For those that are invested in this portion of the preview, you’ll know these percentages are very high. Wednesday should be interesting.]

The last time Sporting KC lost an Open Cup game it was in Houston and Mauro Manotas ran wild on the team. There is a possibility Houston will rest their starters (Manotas was the backup CF at the time) because they are in the middle of a stretch where they will play four games in 11 days. If they play their starters, I don’t think SKC stand a chance. If they go with their backups, it’ll still probably be close. Nothing about the way SKC are playing now gives me any confidence. I will however say, I think the backups and kids may actually give SKC a better chance at winning than these exhausted starters. They are hungry!

Prediction: 2-1 Houston 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.