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

Heat, humidity and a road game: a recipe for disaster.

MLS: U.S. Open Cup Quarterfinal-Houston Dynamo vs Sporting KC Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Sporting KC @ Houston Dynamo (#HOUvSKC)

Saturday, August 4, 2018 at 8:00 PM CT

How to Watch: Fox Sporting KC+ | ESPN+

Oh how the mighty have fallen. Sporting Kansas City (9-6-6, 33 points) are in full collapse as they’ve plummeted from first place in the Western Conference all the way down to fifth place (the spot that would see them on the road in the knockout round of the playoffs). The Dynamo aren’t faring any better. They currently sit in ninth place (7-8-6, 27 points) and have also basically collapsed.

The thing the teams have in common, it’s mostly been downhill since they met each other in a 3-2 thriller on June 23rd. Sporting won that game but it was their only win in the last seven games (1-4-2). Houston have one win in seven as well (1-3-3), a 3-0 drubbing over Minnesota United.

It would seem that this game is coming at a good time for both teams. Since they are both in poor form, it’s a chance to turn it around for either club against another struggling team. The difference is they just played this game a bit over two weeks ago when Sporting KC travelled to Houston for a US Open Cup match that would see the home team hand out a 4-2 beat down. And it wasn’t even that close. Yohan Croizet scored a (lucky) stoppage time goal to make it look better than it was. Sound familiar? Daniel Salloi did the same thing this past weekend late in stoppage time in a 2-3 loss to FC Dallas (though with less luck).

The game being in Houston is nothing but a negative too for SKC. While Sporting KC were decent on the road at the beginning of the year starting 2-0-1, they’ve struggled recently going 1-4-2 since then. In their last seven visits to Houston across all competitions, they’ve lost six of them. The only win was a US Open Cup game last season where Houston played a second choice lineup and even then it took very late goals from Sporting starters to pull it out.

If there is any glimmer of hope it’s that Houston have struggled, even at home, as of late. They’ve lost three times at home in 2018 which includes a 1-3 loss to the Philadelphia Union a week ago. Sporting KC are also nearly out of their schedule congestion nightmare while Houston are playing their third game in 10 days (they lost each of the last two).

One interesting factor with all the congestion is the MLS All-Star game was also this past Wednesday and three players likely to play in this game were featured. Ilie and Zusi from SKC and Alberth Elis from Houston. They played in Atlanta so that’s extra travel and minutes on those legs. Kuzain and Lindsey also put in minutes on Tuesday in the MLS Homegrown game which could be a factor too.

Houston’s Roster Changes

There has only been one change since the team’s last regular season meeting (if you are interested in their other moves, head this way). The change is the addition of TAM forward Ronaldo Pena from Caracas FC (a center forward available at a TAM salary, who knew that was a thing). The Venezuelan forward has yet to make an appearance though and it’s unclear when he’ll debut. He is a center forward and that role is occupied by Mauro Manotas who has scored twice in each of his last two games against Sporting KC, so it’ll be hard to displace him.

Injuries

Sporting KC

OUT: Jimmy Medranda (bone bruise in leg), Khiry Shelton (knee surgery), Brad Evans (Achilles, calf — it keeps changing week to week)

QUESTIONABLE: Cristian Lobato (knee), Johnny Russell (MCL injury)

Houston

OUT: A.J. DeLaGarza (torn left ACL), Juan David Cabezas (left quad injury), Mac Steeves (left hip injury), Philippe Senderos (right quadriceps injury)

QUESTIONABLE: None

Suspensions

Sporting KC - Roger Espinoza (yellow card accumulation) [Opara suspended next yellow]

Houston - None [Alberth Elis suspended after next yellow]

Statistical Leaders

Sporting KC

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

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

Houston

Goals: Mauro Manotas (11), Elis (9), Romell Quioto, Tomas Martinez, Philippe Senderos (4)

Assists: Quioto (11), Elis (8), Boniek Garcia, Martinez (5)

Recent Performances

Sporting KC - L/L/D/L/L (1 point)

Houston - W/D/D/L/L (5 points)

Starting XI Predictions

Besides Medranda and Shelton, the main pieces are healthy (or at least getting back to game fitness). The first big question is who replaces Roger Espinoza in the midfield? There are a few options. Yohan Croizet has been the fourth midfielder when someone was hurt or suspended previously. He’s shown nothing to indicate he deserves more minutes. Wan Kuzain is the safe pick. He doesn’t have Espinoza’s motor, but he’ll at least make smart passes and not lose possession.

The intriguing option in the midfield is 16-year-old Gianluca Busio. Vermes was so pleased with his MLS debut last week (the youngest in Sporting KC history), he wished he would have put him in earlier. Of course Busio is more of an attacking midfielder (#10) but Vermes has said Felipe Gutierrez is more of a #8 so maybe he covers for Espinoza and Busio moves forward. With all the minutes Jaylin Lindsey is getting, maybe go full youth-movement.

The other debate is who plays center forward? Diego Rubio got a rare MLS start and he wasn’t amazing. He hustled, was consistent early and never looked too dangerous (sound familiar?) but then got subbed off. For me, he really needs more time to build chemistry. He was also without Johnny Russell who picked up an injury last week and was a late scratch. I’d like to see if he can build rapport with his wingers, who if healthy will probably be Salloi and Russell. Maybe if Russell is healthy Rubio isn’t a starter at all and Salloi return to CF. Only Vermes knows.

My only other question is who plays left back? Seth Sinovic was getting scorched in the Open Cup against Elis but Lindsey put in time in Atlanta with the Homegrowns against Liga MX U20 side Tigres UNAL. He’s been mostly impressive at left back though and probably deserves to start until (if?) Medranda returns.

Some might be calling for Opara or Besler to get benched after poor performances against Dallas, but it was their first games back together from injury and just playing together and getting more fit should only make them better.

My main fear with this lineup is that it’s so offensive (two more forward midfielders) that there could be a lot of space between the front and back lines.

I don’t think it would happen but things are so broken that if Lobato was healthy it might be a good time to put him back in at wingback, go with a three-man backline and have the ability to bunker to leave Houston no opportunities to counter. Then Russell could play under whoever the center forward is (think Belmar in the US Open against RSL). That leaves nine players to defend with Russell and the #9 going forward and not rushing back on defense.

But since it won’t happen, I’ll stick with a 4-3-3.

Rest of the 18: Dick, Sinovic, Croizet, Didic, Kuzain, Gerso, Belmar

Zendejas, Storm and Smith featured for Swope Park on Wednesday against the LA Galaxy II so they likely are unavailable. Belmar was not there, so he could be back in the 18 after Sporting entered the last game with very limited offensive bench options. Notably Didic didn’t play for SPR and he appears to be the third center back until the rumored La Liga signing arrives. Or I suppose until Evans is healthy (ack).

[The fan vote is a little wonky because we left Espinoza in to be voted for and he technically eked out a start, but since he’s suspended we’ll go with the next player, which is Croizet. Everything else is the same. It was really close at forward where Russell got his lowest vote total in a while (59.1% — the same as Rubio), which may be because of his injury. Here is who got the most votes but didn’t get enough to start: Gerso (52.3%), Sinovic (31.8%), Smith (22.7%), Kuzain & Busio (18.2% each) and Belmar (13.6%).]

I can’t pick a win (or even a draw) until Sporting prove that things have changed. That said, expect fireworks as the defense of both teams are currently broken. In three-quarters of Houston’s games there have been more than 2.5 goals and they’ve scored in 91% of their home games. On the other side Sporting have scored two goals or more in four straight but have conceded two goals or more in six straight. It’ll probably be a 0-0 draw now.

Prediction: 3-2 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.