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Sporting KC v Real Salt Lake: Preview, Predictions, Injuries & Starting XI

The schedule is suddenly getting very hard for the best in the West.

MLS: U.S. Open Cup-Real Salt Lake vs Sporting KC Jeff Swinger-USA TODAY Sports

Sporting KC @ Real Salt Lake (#RSLvSKC)

Wednesday, July 4, 2018 at 9:00 PM CT

Fox Sports KC + | ESPN + | Sports Radio 810 WHB

Sporting Kansas City end their mini-road trip on Independence Day with a trip to play rival Real Salt Lake. Sporting will be looking to avoid their first losing streak of the season coming off a horrific performance against the Montreal Impact last Saturday. It won’t be easy as they have really struggled against RSL in league play (they do have that Open Cup win from June 6th but those were backup heavy lineups).

Sporting KC haven’t won in five straight MLS regular season trips to Rio Tinto Stadium (0-3-2) and it doesn’t get much better when you add in the KC home games (1-5-3 in their last nine). Salt Lake enter Wednesday’s match-up sitting fifth in the Western Conference Standings (7-8-2, 23 points) and nine points back of first place Kansas City (9-3-5, 32 points).

In general, Salt Lake are fantastic at home. They are 6-1-1 in 2017 while playing at home and they haven’t lost at home since their embarrassing season open shellacking by LAFC by a score of 5-1. Since then, in the next seven games they’ve only allowed five more goals (weirdly two against the Colorado Rapids) and they’ve posted three shutouts over that time.

In 2017 while on the road in Utah, Sporting were able to pick up a draw on July 22nd on the back of a Benny Feilhaber PK in an otherwise feckless game. They also lost to RSL on the road in their late season swoon with a 2-1 defeat on October 22nd.

Sporting enter Wednesday’s match having dipped slightly in a few statistical categories. They are now 6th in the league in goals per game (1.82 — RSL are 19th at 1.24) and tied for third in goals conceded (1.06 — RSL are 17th at 1.88).

Salt Lake’s Roster Changes

RSL are a bit like the new FC Dallas in their recent youth movement. Out are former Sporting Kansas City striker Yura Movsisyan and forward Chad Barrett. Also out are veteran defenders Chris Schuler and Chris Wingert and midfielder Omar Holness.

With older players out, Salt Lake locked up former loanee Brooks Lennon from Liverpool. They also added Corey Baird on a Homegrown signing and he’s by far been their most impactful signing. He’s contributed four goals and two assists. They also signed Homegrown defender Aaron Herrera and added defender Taylor Peay. Another impactful signing is Damir Kreilach on a free transfer, who, if nothing else, is soaking up lots of minutes in the midfield.

Injuries

Sporting KC

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

QUESTIONABLE: Amer Didic (hamstring)

Salt Lake

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

QUESTIONABLE: None

Suspensions

Sporting KC - None

Salt Lake - None (Marcelo Silva and Kyle Beckerman suspended next yellow card)

International Duty

Sporting KC - None

Salt Lake - None

Statistical Leaders

Sporting KC

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)

Salt Lake

Goals: Albert Rusnak, Corey Baird (4), Damir Kreilach, Joao Plata, Luis Silva (3), Jefferson Savarino (2)

Assists: Albert Rusnak, Damir Kreilach (4), Sebastian Saucedo, Brooks Lennon (3), Corey Baird, Jefferson Savarino (2)

Recent Performances

Sporting KC - D/W/D/W/L (8 points)

Salt Lake - W/W/L/D/L (7 points)

Starting XI Predictions

This game comes in the middle of a triple game week for both clubs. Salt Lake was on the road to Columbus in a losing effort on Saturday while we all know SKC laid an egg in the great white north. With games on Sunday for both clubs, the question really becomes do you run your starters into the ground?

I know games in the Western Conference are worth twice as much as the home match against Toronto FC on Sunday but it seems like Sporting needs a rest. They were sluggish in the humidity of Montreal and the high on Wednesday in Salt Lake City is 97 degrees. If that’s not a recipe for disaster, I’m not sure what is. While some players will undoubtedly need rest, the question becomes who rests?

Without a doubt in my mind Johnny Russell needs to sit. I’m not even sure I’d have him on the bench lest Peter Vermes be tempted to use him. The other day Vermes mentioned the need to rest Russell but he doesn’t heed his own advice. Since he came out in the 52nd minute of the Vancouver Whitecaps hat-trick game he’s played at least 78 minutes in all the other league games (minus the game he played 90 for Scotland) and he also played another 100 combined minutes in the two US Open Cup games. Combine that with the fact he played 25 games in Europe (23 Championship, 1 EFL Cup and 1 FA Cup) in the last year and he’s already played 2,931 minutes and the MLS season is only half over. There are 1,530 MLS league minutes still available to play, plus playoffs and US Open Cup on top of that. SIT JOHNNY! He hasn’t scored in over two months in league play, he needs a break.

I imagine Khiry Shelton will return to center forward and this is a game where that makes sense. On the road where it’s very likely Salt Lake will be coming forward, his defensive presence will be welcomed. Who you put next to him is a real question. Salloi could probably use a rest, but if I had to guess Vermes won’t sit him and it’ll be he and Gerso up top. I’d personally squeeze Belmar in there somehow to see if he can follow-up his one goal and one assist performance against them in the Open Cup.

The real dilema is at midfield where there is no depth. Busio has been injured while Espinoza and Ilie have played a ton. Ilie seems to never rest, so put Espinoza on the bench and play Ilie, Croizet and Kuzain.

In the back line there are lots of injuries still so I imagine Jaylin Lindsey keeps playing. The question is if he’ll get his first chance at right back to potentially give Zusi a break. Sinovic could return at left back. Then you have Ike Opara who is mildly out of form and could probably use a break and Besler coming off an injury and 90 minutes on Saturday. Can you sit them both? Emiliano Amor seems a likely starter (though with his “psychological rest” maybe Amer Didic starts... though he struggled against RSL in the US Open) but if you forced me to guess I’d say Besler plays.

The long and short of it is I have no idea and I imagine only Vermes really knows.

Rest of the 18: Zendejas, Rubio, Didic, Russell, Espinoza, Belmar, Zusi

Again, this is my best guess of will happen not what I necessarily want to happen. Though who am I kidding? Vermes will probably just play most of his regular starters.

[The fan vote has what I would call a conflicted first choice lineup. The voting is close, but it’s Melia, Zusi, Opara, Besler, Lindsey, Ilie, Espinoza, Croizet, Russell, Shelton, Salloi. It could be the ‘go for points against West teams, rest against Toronto’ mentality. Hard to know. Here were the top vote getting backups: Sinovic (41.2%), Amor (35.3%), Kuzain (35.3%), Rubio (35.3%), Gerso (23.5%).]

My least favorite part of this game. Who wins? A point on the road would be perfectly acceptable but I could easily see Sporting losing.

Prediction: 2-1 Real Salt Lake 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.