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

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SKC match-up with former teammates Benny Feilhaber and Latif Blessing.

MLS: Los Angeles FC at Real Salt Lake
Benny and Latif, it’s not a homecoming quite yet, but it’s two familiar faces across the pitch.
Jeff Swinger-USA TODAY Sports

Sporting KC @ Los Angeles Football Club (#LAFCvSKC)

Saturday, August 11, 2018 at 9:30 PM CT

How to Watch: Fox Sporting KC | ESPN+

My how things have changed since the last time we were here. Sporting Kansas City finally got a win, though it was assisted by Houston Dynamo red card stupidity. Sometimes, clawing out an ugly victory is just what a team needs though lots of concerns remain. Houston was down a man for the majority of the game and they still came close to scoring quite a bit and it took another Diego Rubio super sub appearances to sneak in a beautiful goal.

The roster has changed a lot since last week too. Officially out is backup center back Emiliano Amor. He will be replaced by a La Liga and Barcelona B veteran, Andreu Fontas, though he likely won’t be available this weekend. The biggest news of the week is the return of Krisztian Nemeth in a trade with the New England Revolution.

Nemeth returning won’t be the only familiar face for Sporting KC fans this weekend. LAFC stole Latif Blessing in the outdated MLS Expansion Draft and SKC traded Benny Feilhaber to Los Angeles in exchange for more Garber Bucks. They won’t actually return to KC until the end of the season, but this journey to Los Angeles will mark the first time these clubs have ever met.

LAFC are in the middle of a pretty fantastic expansion season. Coach Bob Bradley has guided LA to fourth in the standings, tied with SKC on points with identical 10-6-6 records with Sporting only ahead on goal difference by two goals. Both teams are in a bit of a slump right now. The summer swoon is well document for Sporting but LAFC are winless in four straight (five if you count the US Open Cup PK shootout loss on Wednesday).

With there being no history between these teams stats are a little tough to come by. They are still undefeated at home (5-0-5) while Sporting KC are having a much better road record than prior years (two wins in 2017). In 2018 they are 4-4-3 (which would be an amazing formation if not for the lack of a goalkeeper). On the road Sporting have actually scored in 73% of their road games and in the last three home matches, LAFC have given up at least two goals. Add to that the fact that LA also average nearly two goals a game at home and it’s a recipe for bad defense and lots of offense.

LAFC’s Roster Changes

Well they are an expansion team, so I guess their whole roster changed. They have three Designated Players in Carlos Vela, Diego Rossi and Andre Horta. Horta just arrived but the other two have been stars. They are also a team with a lot of name value. Outside the names above, Blessing and Feilhaber, they also have Laurent Ciman and Walker Zimmerman, two very known MLS center backs. Despite that, their defense is leaky at best.

Not to rest on their laurels, they’ve made a few moves this week too. The added some CB depth in former MLS player Danilo Silva. They added US Youth International Josh Perez, another forward. But the biggest move by far is the move to sign Christian Ramirez for over $1 million in allocation money from Minnesota United. One has to wonder if Diomande is very hurt to make a move like that. Otherwise, it’s going to be hard to get all the attacking options on the field between Dio, Ramirez, Vela, Blessing, Rossi, Feilhaber, Nguyen and Urena.

Injuries

Sporting KC

OUT: Jimmy Medranda (bone bruise in leg), Khiry Shelton (knee surgery)

QUESTIONABLE: Johnny Russell (MCL injury), Brad Evans (calf)

LAFC

OUT: Quillan Roberts (right fibular fracture), Mark-Anthony Kaye (fractured ankle)

QUESTIONABLE: Adama Diomande (hamstring injury)

Suspensions

Sporting KC - None (Opara suspended next yellow)

LAFC - None (Zimmerman suspended next yellow)

Statistical Leaders

Sporting KC

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

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

LAFC

Goals: Adama Diomande (9), Carlos Vela (8), Diego Rossi (7), Latif Blessing (5), Benny Feilhaber, Laurent Ciman (3)

Assists: Vela, Blessing, Rossi (6), Marco Urena, Mark-Anthony Kaye (5), Feilhaber, Steven Beitashour (4)

Recent Performances

Sporting KC - L/D/L/L/W (4 points)

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

Starting XI Predictions

The question on everyone’s mind is does Krisztian Nemeth play on Saturday? Vermes has said he’s available and I fully expect him to play. If you ask me, he should start. Diego Rubio is the only other true #9 on the roster and he’s been shown to be vastly superior coming off the bench as opposed to being the starter. All four of his goals are as a super sub. Nemeth should be fit. He’s familiar with SKC’s system, even if it’s evolved over the years. He admitted to the Star he keeps up with Sporting KC by watching games on his phone. So no reason he can’t play 55-60 minutes and then let Rubio come on and do his thing.

The next big question is if Johnny Russell can play. His “minor” injury has cost him two games already. I’m 100% fine with them being extra cautious and basically just giving him some rest. If he’s out, the logical replacement again would be Gerso who hasn’t looked bad, but hasn’t blown anyone away (outside that one brilliant moment where he scored). An out of form Salloi seems likely to still start on the left wing.

The midfield should continue to be the best three players: Espinoza, Ilie and Gutierrez. Same for the back line. Zusi, Opara and Besler should all be in.

The question that remains is who plays left back? It’s been changing a lot but I think most would be happy to never see Cristian Lobato at left back again (unless a goal is needed and the team is trailing). Then is it Seth Sinovic or Jaylin Lindsey. Sporting pitched their first shutout since June 10th against Houston with Sinovic in the lineup, but the defense still looked shaky and the Dynamo were down a man most of the game (and down three men in the closing minutes). Despite that, I think Sinovic is the option when you want to be more defensive, which SKC should going on the road.

Rest of the 18: Zendejas, Lindsey, Busio, Didic, Rubio, Gerso, Lobato

In a thing that won’t happen, I completely left Croizet off the team. Busio has just been so good and Lobato is so positionally diverse. If Russell can’t go, slide Gerso into the starting spot and I guess put Croizet on the bench. Maybe Yohan should head to SPR and let Belmar get that bench spot though.

[The fan vote is pretty close to what I put out. You guys have Lindsey over Sinovic at left back. At forward it’s a bit of a cluster. The only runaway starter is Salloi with 90.9% of the vote. Likely because of injury it’s then Russell (61.4%) then Gerso (47.7%). With no specific voting block for center forward versus wingers (maybe we should try that) so it’s unclear if people want Salloi to play CF or if they voted just before Nemeth was announced (he was added to the voting a couple hours in). Here are the top non-starters in terms of votes: Nemeth (37.6%), Sinovic (36.4%), Rubio (33%) and Busio (28.4%). No one else is close.]

I picked Sporting to lose last week and they did. I’m not superstitious but I just feel like I should pick them to lose again and see if it works.

All the odds say they shouldn’t win. LAFC hasn’t lost at home. Sporting are still in really bad form despite that ugly win. If they pull out a draw I think most would be happy. But how magical would it be to win on what is likely to be Nemeth’s debut after he was away for nearly two season? And let’s not forget LAFC just played 120 minutes on the road in Houston Wednesday.

I’ll still say loss and just know I don’t mean it.

Prediction: 2-1 LAFC

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.