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Sporting KC v Portland Timbers: Preview, Predictions, Injuries & Starting XI

Number two versus number five in the West.

MLS: Sporting KC at Portland Timbers Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

Sporting KC v Portland Timbers (#SKCvPOR)

Saturday, August 18, 2018 at 7:30 PM CT

How to Watch: Fox Sporting KC+ | ESPN+ | 810 WHB

A pivotal Western Conference matchup will be going down on Saturday between Sporting Kansas City and the Portland Timbers. Sporting KC currently sit in second place (39 points) while Portland are in fifth (37 points — yes they fell from second to fifth in just four days, ouch!) with a game in hand. Just six points separate Sporting KC from seventh place Vancouver Whitecaps. Seventh would put Sporting below the red line and completely out of the playoffs. So every point matters, especially home games.

Back at home is where Sporting will find themselves after a very successful set of road games against the Houston Dynamo and Los Angeles Football Club led to two straight wins. Children’s Mercy Park hasn’t been the fortress it usually is, as Sporting are just 6-2-3 at home this year. Last season it took nearly an entire season to lose a home game. In the last two home games SKC are just 0-1-1.

The Portland Timbers on the other hand are less abysmal than usual. In previous seasons they’ve struggled to win on the road at all but under new head coach Giovanni Savarese they are 3-3-4. That’s only good for 10th best in the league but for a team that simply could not win on the road in past seasons, it’s a marked improvement. Plus, with Portland’s awful 4-3-2-1 Christmas Tree formation, they’ll likely be very defensive and look to bunker for that all important road point.

The one thing pushing back against Portland’s defense is a very potent SKC offense. They have scored two goals or more in each of their last four home matches, even though two of those were losses. Sporting currently boast the league’s sixth most potent offense. Going into the week Portland boasted the third best defense until they were thrashed on the road by D.C. United on Wednesday 4-1. Sporting may be catching Portland at just the right time.

Portland’s Roster Changes

This is the second time these clubs have met this year, so we already broke down their 2018 offseason moves. That said, a lot more moves have happened in the last two months. First, Fanendo Adi is out and he’s headed to FC Cincinnati who will join MLS in 2019. They also traded backup defender Vytas to D.C. United on deadline day. The Adi loss seems huge but in fact he was barely contributing and Samuel Armenteros has more than filled his shoes.

Portland appears to really be going for it as well based on their additions. They brought back United States National Team fullback Jorge Villafaña from Santos Laguna in Liga MX. He has a previous run with the Timbers and is a definite upgrade. They also brought back previous flop winger Lucas Melano who has been less than good while he’s been away on loan. They also added attacking player Tomas Conechny who is just 20-years-old and could be a pain in the collective Western Conference’s rears for years to come.

Injuries

Sporting KC

OUT: Jimmy Medranda (knee surgery - out for season), Khiry Shelton (knee surgery), Brad Evans (calf), Cristian Lobato (quad)

QUESTIONABLE: None

Portland

OUT: Modou Jadama (left thigh injury), Roy Miller (right thigh injury), Jake Gleeson (right thigh injury)

QUESTIONABLE: Liam Ridgewell (lower left leg injury)

Suspensions

Sporting KC - None (Opara suspended next yellow)

Portland - None

Statistical Leaders

Sporting KC

Goals: Johnny Russell, Daniel Salloi (7), Felipe Gutierrez (5), Diego Rubio, Ilie Sanchez (4), Gerso (3), Cristian Lobato, Jimmy Medranda, Graham Zusi, Khiry Shelton (2)

Assists: Roger Espinoza (8), Daniel Salloi, Johnny Russell (6), Graham Zusi, Diego Rubio (4), Ilie Sanchez (3), Khiry Shelton, Gerso, Yohan Croizet (2)

Portland

Goals: Diego Valeri (9), Samuel Armenteros (7), Sebastian Blanco (6), Larrys Mabiala (4), Fanendo Adi (3)

Assists: Valeri (10), Blanco (4), Cristhian Paredes, Alvas Powell (3)

Recent Performances

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

Portland - D/W/W/L/L (7 points)

Starting XI Predictions

Besides the long-term injuries to Medranda and Shelton (and that Brad Evans guy who will probably never play), Sporting KC are finally starting to get healthy. Johnny Russell returned from injury last week and Gutierrez is inching closer to being 90-minutes fit. It leaves Peter Vermes with an embarrassment of riches to choose from with a starting lineup.

The first question is, does he put Russell back in on the wing? Salloi had been out of form but played much better against LA. Gerso has two goals in the last three games and may just have the hot hand. If I’m Vermes, I stick with the lineup and bring Russell in for a burst in the second half.

The next question is Nemeth or Rubio? Krisztian Nemeth officially made his return on Saturday and looked less than stellar, but he only got a few minutes of game time and the team was already well on their way to victory. That said, why mess with success? Rubio may have had his best game of the year last week. He was pressing, forcing turnovers and tracking back defensively. He also had the game-winning assist to Gerso. Then again, Nemeth’s 2015 MLS Goal of the Year came at CF against Portland, so you probably can’t go wrong.

The only other real question is who plays left back? Medranda is officially out for the rest of 2018 and the first chunk of 2019 so the position is up for grabs. Jaylin Lindsey has mostly looked good, even playing out of position on the left. Then again, Sinovic has started two straight games which were both shutout victories. Vermes probably sticks with the hot hand, though if Portland is bunkering, an offensive left back may not be a bad idea.

The argument could be made that Roger Espinoza needs a rest. He works like crazy but he had a lot of poor turnovers against LAFC that he was lucky came to nothing. Giving him a game off every once in a while wouldn’t be bad. I’d put in Busio at the #10 and slide Gutierrez back to the #8. Though I don’t expect that to happen.

Everything else stays the same. In fact, I don’t expect any changes this week, though Russell would be the logical one to come in if anyone does.

Rest of the 18: Dick, Lindsey, Busio, Didic, Nemeth, Russell, Croizet

I foolishly put Croizet out of the 18 last week. It seems clear Vermes is going to keep playing him. He did play quite well as a sub. He didn’t make mistakes and his hustle and pressure created some turnovers. I still don’t trust him but I’ll bump Lobato out of the 18. Maybe Lobato or Lindsey should head to SPR if they aren’t going to play. I’d love to see Lindsey get SPR minutes (and they could use the defensive help) or Lobato get a rehab start.

Graham Smith is suspended for SPR this weekend and that could mean he’s the backup CB but we at TBT believe Didic could sit the bench (unless Fontas arrives and passes his physical) for SKC then turn around and play for SPR on Sunday. Regardless Didic needs to be getting on the field with SPR.

[The fan vote is slightly different and I did make the change to account for wingers versus center forwards in the poll. Russell gets the nod over Gerso on the wing and Nemeth over Rubio at CF, though it was pretty close. Everything else matches my prediction above. Here are your top vote getters who aren’t starters: Rubio (43.3%), Lindsey (37.8%), Gerso (27.8%) and Busio (8.9%).]

While some will tell you luck has nothing to do with it, Sporting KC are really lucky right now. For the Dynamo game, they were up a man for most the game (then up three men before it was all over). Last weekend they played an LAFC team that played three games in eight days (including a 120+ minute US Open Cup game) and were forced to rest starters which led to a second straight road victory.

Now the Timbers will also be playing three games in eight days. That includes traveling from Portland to Washington D.C. and then back to KC. That’s a lot of miles not to mention a lot of minutes on Portland’s legs. Armenteros, Chara, Powell and Mabiala all played 90 minutes with Valeri and Blanco putting in long shifts too. The timing just feels right.

That said, I’ve predicted losses which have led to wins. I truly don’t believe that my prediction impacts things, but I can’t stop myself from not wanting to jinx SKC. So I’ll say it’ll be a draw, but read between the lines and know (just like last week) I don’t mean it.

Prediction: 2-2 Draw

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.