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Sporting KC v Toronto FC: Preview, Predictions, Injuries & Starting XI

Where the good guys look to stop their first losing streak of hte season.

MLS: Sporting KC at Toronto FC
You won’t see either of these guys on the pitch Saturday.
Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

Sporting KC v Toronto FC (#SKCvTOR)

Saturday, July 7, 2018 at 7:30 PM CT

Fox Sports KC | ESPN + | Sports Radio 810 WHB

We want to tell you not to panic. But maybe you should panic. We recently started looking back at when the midseason swoon starts in each of the last four years and it has happened this early before. However, we are choosing to blame a combination of injuries, fatigue, maybe weather and some schedule congestion.

On Saturday, Sporting Kansas City welcome the 20th ranked (out of 23) Toronto FC to town. Toronto currently have a record of 4-10-3 and are next to last in the Eastern Conference. They also come in riding a three game losing streak. On the season they’ve only earned four points on the road all year. A tie against the Columbus Crew and a win over the Philadelphia Union. If it was any other team, Sporting KC fans would be relieved.

However, this is essentially the same Toronto FC that won the baby treble last year. MLS Cup, Supporters Shield and the Canadian Championship. They also went to the final of the CONCACAF Champions League where they came up short (which is another reason for their abysmal record). Like Sporting KC as of late they have been plagued with injuries and at the beginning of the year due to the CCL they had lots of schedule congestion. Both teams also come in having already played two games this week where they both played most of their starters on Wednesday.

What may be a surprised to some fans is that Sporting KC have utterly dominated the series against Toronto. Partially because before Toronto were the juggernaut that they today they were quite terrible. All-time SKC are 14-4-6 against TFC, including a 9-1-2 home record. If you limit it to more recent play, Sporting are 6-0-2 in the last eight meetings.

Toronto’s Roster Changes

What’s weird about the utter collapse for TFC is that the team is relatively unchanged. Out are longtime veterans Armando Cooper (MID), Benoit Cheyrou (MID), Tsubasa Endoh (FWD) and perhaps most importantly full back Steven Beitashour. Beitashour ended up with LAFC and he has been missed. Additionally, young prospect Raheem Sterling (MID) was lost in the Expansion Draft but ended up being traded to the Montreal Impact in the Laurent Ciman deal.

The replacement for Beitashour was supposed to be Gregory van der Wiel. van der Wiel makes $835,000, which is a lot for a fullback (right Graham Zusi fans?) but his contributions have been uneven. Injuries at center back have hampered the backline with Michael Bradley being forced to play there at times.

Another supposedly key addition was to be forward Auro who is on loan from Sao Paulo. He’s played a lot but his contributions have lacked. Due to injures players like Ager Aketxe and Ryan Telfer have gotten more minutes than they likely would have but haven’t been breakout stars by any means. Aketxe had success abroad but has struggled to replicate that goal scoring and creating magic with TFC thus far.

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)

Toronto

OUT: Jozy Altidore (foot surgery), Drew Moor (quadricep strain), Chris Mavinga (hamstring strain), Caleb Patterson-Sewell (elbow injury), Auro (hamstring strain), Jason Hernandez (hamstring strain)

QUESTIONABLE: Victor Vazquez (knee injury)

Suspensions

Sporting KC - Roger Espinoza & Daniel Salloi (red cards)

Toronto - None

International Duty

Sporting KC - None

Toronto - None

Statistical Leaders

Sporting KC

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

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

Toronto

Goals: Victor Vazquez, Jonathan Osorio (5), Sebastian Giovinco (4), Nick Hagglund, Jozy Altidore, Tosaint Ricketts, Jay Chapman (2)

Assists: Sebastian Giovinco (7), Victor Vazquez (6), Nicolas Hasler, Auro, Jonathan Osorio, Michael Bradley (2)

Recent Performances

Sporting KC - W/D/W/L/L (7 points)

Toronto - W/D/L/L/L (4 points)

Starting XI Predictions

The following players started and played all 90 minutes in the two prior games this week against Montreal and Salt Lake: Tim Melia, Graham Zusi, Ike Opara and Ilie Sanchez. Yohan played all but seven minutes and if not for red cards, Espinoza and Salloi would have probably gone the distance too. This team is in dire need of rest. Espinoza and Salloi will get theirs because of their being sent off. The questions become, who do you rest? And who replaces Espinoza and Salloi?

I’ll start with who you don’t rest, Ilie. Kuzain can play that role (at the USL level at least) but with even a down year Sebastian Giovinco coming to town, you need Ilie. Obviously Melia doesn’t need to rest as a keeper but I’d be OK with resting Opara and Zusi. I’m not sure Zusi will get a rest but Opara might need both a physical rest and some of that “psychological rest” Vermes is handing out. Even though Amor had a bad game, I’d start him over Ike. He’s basically like Ike in that he goes forward and is good with his head, but he’s better with his feet (just maybe not with his decision making). With Besler likely back stabilizing him, Amor would have room to roam forward at times.

If Zusi doesn’t rest (though I honestly think Lindsey has proved he can handle it) then the question becomes who plays on the left. I’m not sure Seth Sinovic was at fault for that disastrous four goal game but Jaylin Lindsey is playing quite well. I’d play Lindsey for his speed and his new found attacking quality. If Zusi finally does rest, Lindsey moves to the right and Seth handles the left.

In the midfield, as stated, I think it’s Kuzain in for Espinoza and Croizet and Ilie holding their spots (I know Croizet randomly started on the wing, but he’s a midfielder and they don’t have the depth to put him out there as there are literally no more healthy midfielders). I’ve done my share of Croizet hating, but I think he’s getting much better and he’s turning it over way less. That said, Felipe Gutierrez should be back within the month and I’m sure everyone cannot wait.

Up front is just a disaster lately. The best player by far is Salloi and he is suspended. I suspect Shelton will start but he didn’t show me much on Wednesday (or really ever for my taste — pass it quicker and the turnovers will diminish). However, I think at home, when teams are more likely to sit back (though Toronto need to average something like two points a game to make the playoffs, so they may not sit back) Sporting should play an attacking lineup. In the past that’s included playing Salloi at CF, which isn’t an option. So it’s finally time for Diego Rubio to start his second league match. If not him I’m 100% good with Kharlton Belmar at the #9. He’s fast and strong and the man knows how to score goals (even if it’s been against USL competition up to this point). Once SKC secure a lead, let Shelton kill it off late with his hustle.

That leaves Gerso and Russell for the wings. Russell also is truly in need of a rest and PV even started Wednesday with him on the bench but panicked and put him in. He did assist on a goal but as I said on Twitter at the time I’d have taken off Espinoza at the half in what I believe was a lost cause and then Roger wouldn’t have gotten suspended and he and Johnny would be available and fresh for Saturday. But Vermes will undoubtedly play Russell. While he has still gotten assists, he has scored a goal since his hat-trick against the Vancouver Whitecaps. I can’t repeat that information enough. That was April 20th. About 10 weeks ago. 10 weeks! Anyways, if Rubio does start, Vermes could play Gerso and Belmar with Russell available on the bench. Belmar almost exclusively plays winger for the Swope Park Rangers and it’s likely where he’s more comfortable.

A mix of likely to happen with some stuff I want sprinkled in. But let’s be honest, Shelton probably starts (blah).

Rest of the 18: Zendejas, Rubio, Lindsey, Shelton, Rubio, Evans, Opara

One nugget to consider is if Brad Evans finally makes his debut. He was removed from the injury report last week and he has played holding midfielder in the past.

[The fan vote is a lot more mixed after these two defeats. That said, the starters are the standard ones minus suspensions. Melia, Zusi, Opara, Besler, Sinovic, Ilie, Croizet, Kuzain, Russell, Shelton and Gerso. The voting was a bit closer and here are the top vote getters that didn’t get enough to start: Lindsey (44.4%), Rubio (34.9%), Amor (30.2%), Belmar (11.6%), Smith (9.3%). Also, an interesting thing happened in the midfield where Zusi and Lobato {who is probably still out} got 18.6% of that vote each and Russell got 11.6% as well.]

I can’t tell you how much I hate trying to make predictions. Sporting KC need to win at home, so I’ll say they will, though a draw (or another loss) wouldn’t stun me. I think they’ll find a way to at least get points though.

Prediction: 1-0 Sporting KC 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.