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Sporting KC v Philadelphia Union: Preview, Predictions, Injuries & Starting XI

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What is Jack Elliot doing to Diego Rubio in this photo?

MLS: Philadelphia Union at Sporting KC Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

Sporting KC @ Philadelphia Union (#PHIvSKC)

Sunday, September 23rd, 2018 at 12:00 PM CT

How to Watch: ESPN | 810 WHB

Sporting Kansas City head into the weekend with the ability to lock up their eighth straight playoff appearance. All they need to do is win and get a loss out of Real Salt Lake and a loss or tie from the Portland Timbers and a loss or tie from the Vancouver Whitecaps.

Getting into the playoffs this weekend isn’t of the utmost concern. Sporting KC will make the playoffs, it’s where they are seeded that is of greater concern. FiveThirtyEight has them at an 86 percent chance of finishing first or second and getting a first round bye.

The next step in that journey leads Kansas City back to the City of Brotherly Love. They go on the road to Philly for just the second time since they went into Talon Energy Stadium in 2015 and won the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup with a Jordi Quintilla winning penalty kick after the teams had battled to a 1-1 draw.

But things aren’t so rosey when SKC head to Philadelphia. Outside of the Open Cup win (which is technically a draw) they’ve lost two straight in the MLS regular season when traveling to PA. Last season the clubs played their annual game in Children’s Mercy Park and Sporting could only muster a draw. If we take it back through the last seven meetings Sporting KC have only managed a single win.

Things could be different on Sunday though as the Union are in the middle of a busy stretch of games. Sunday will be their third game in eight days and they are once again in the Open Cup final the following Wednesday and may look to rest their starters. They were just trounced at home last weekend by the Montreal Impact and had a long road trip to Seattle this past Wednesday where, despite being down a man, they managed the late winner off a horrible Stefan Frei mistake.

Philadelphia’s Roster Changes

It’s out with the old and in with the new for the Union. They got rid of older players and made subtle youth heavy acquisitions. Out are veterans Maurice Edu, Oguchi Onyewu, Chris Pontius, Brian Carroll and Charlie Davies.

The big acquisition was supposed to be David Accam coming over for north of a million bucks in allocation money from the Chicago Fire. Accam just has a single goal. On the other hand they added Corey Burke from their USL side, Bethlehem Steel FC. He has eight goals which is more than presumed starter and former SKC man CJ Sapong and Accam. Another player they added on loan from Henan Jianye is Borek Dockal who has 15 (!) assists.

Injuries

Sporting KC

OUT: Jimmy Medranda (knee surgery - out for season), Cristian Lobato (knee injury - out for season), Diego Rubio (knee), Khiry Shelton (knee)

QUESTIONABLE: None

Union

OUT: Matt Real (left knee sprain)

QUESTIONABLE: Ilsinho (quad strain)

Suspensions

Sporting KC - None

Union - Jack Elliott (red card)

Statistical Leaders

Sporting KC

Goals: Johnny Russell, Diego Rubio (8), Daniel Salloi, Felipe Gutierrez (7), Gerso (5), Ilie Sanchez (4)

Assists: Roger Espinoza (9), Johnny Russell (8), Daniel Salloi (7), Diego Rubio (6), Gerso (5), Graham Zusi (4), Ilie Sanchez, Yohan Croizet (3)

Union

Goals: Fafa Picault, Corey Burke (8), Borek Dockal, Ilsinho (5), CJ Sapong (4)

Assists: Dockal (15), Haris Medunjanin (6), Alejandro Bedoya (4), Picault (3)

Recent Performances

Sporting KC - W/W/L/W/W (12 points)

Union - W/W/D/L/W (10 points)

Starting XI Predictions

[*This was written before the news of Shelton and Rubio being out came out Sunday morning*]

The real lineup conundrum probably is in Philadelphia’s court. They should and probably will rest a lot of starters so they can win the Open Cup. The question then becomes, does Sporting KC stick with the front three that’s been working, or return some previous starters to the lineup?

Nemeth, Croizet and Gerso have started the last two and they pulled out wins in both. However, those were against two of the lowliest teams in the league in the San Jose Earthquakes and Orlando City. While Croizet has arguably been the best version of himself we’ve seen and Nemeth has been serviceable, it would seem to me you’d want to establish a rhythm with your likely starters before the playoffs start.

The one man I can’t justify removing from the lineup is Gerso who has possibly stolen Daniel Salloi’s starting spot and looked fantastic last weekend in his two goal, two assist performance. If I’m in charge, I start Gerso with Rubio and Russell and let Croizet and Nemeth come off the bench.

Everything else is not worth changing. Gutierrez is finally starting to look like his old self. Espinoza and Ilie are bossing the midfield like they are known to do. And the back line is a relative fortress in front of Tim Melia.

In fact, the version of Sporting KC we saw last weekend, might be the best I can ever remember. They moved the ball so quickly and so precisely it was a marvel to behold. The only issue this week could be that Philadelphia won’t leave themselves wide open to be countered and will likely sit in and be compact, especially if they don’t play their regular starters. It could be a recipe for a bit of a clunker of a game. But if SKC can move the ball like they did last weekend, maybe they can break down the defense and as a by product, open up the game.

Rest of the 18: Zendejas, Croizet, Fontas, Busio, Nemeth, Lindsey, Salloi

Busio and Lindsey played Wednesday with Swope Park and we’ll know how available they are for SKC on Saturday as SPR have another game. Khiry Shelton likely will stay with SPR as he has the last week and a half since he hasn’t shown he’s fully fit. He doesn’t quite look like himself yet and more time with the Rangers will serve him well.

[The fan vote is exactly the same as what I picked. Great minds think alike? Nemeth apparently isn’t impressing anyone as he got a mere 5.3% of the center forward vote. The only mildly close (and it’s not) vote was Salloi picking up 25% to start on the wing. The next two highest vote getters are Fontas and Lindsey who both drew 10.5% of the vote on defense each. It simply wasn’t close this week.]

This match-up is actually between two of the league’s hottest teams. SKC have won six of seven and Philly have won five of seven. That said, it seems unlikely that Philly plays their starters as they try to win a trophy just days later. If that’s the case, despite this being on the road, it’s a game Sporting KC should win. It’ll go a long way towards building confidence if they can pull it out on the road.

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.