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Sporting KC v Real Salt Lake: Preview, Predictions, Injuries & Starting XI

Second versus fifth in this critical Western Conference and rivalry game.

MLS: Sporting KC at Real Salt Lake Jeff Swinger-USA TODAY Sports

Sporting KC v Real Salt Lake (#SKCvRSL)

Sunday, September 30th, 2018 at 4:00 PM CT

How to Watch: FS1 | 810 WHB

God I hate Real Salt Lake. I don’t know if I’d take it as far as former Sporting Kansas City midfielder Benny Feilhaber and say they are the team “I hate the most,” but I really don’t like them. Because I’m a glutton for punishment I went back and watched the quick highlights from the 4-2, double red card, abomination that was the meeting between these clubs this week. What’s not captured in the highlight package was the diving and flopping of Sebastian Saucedo. One good thing is “Bofa” has only started twice since the July 4th clash between these clubs, though he does have nine tiny sub appearances.

One thing that truly does make things worse is the fact that RSL are the kryptonite of Sporting KC in recent regular season history. SKC are a mere 1-6-3 over their last 10 meetings. The good thing is the last time they met in KC for a regular season game, Sporting won 3-0. That was April 2017 though, so a lot of things have changed. To keep this pendulum swinging back and forth, it should be noted RSL are quite bad on the road this year. They are just 3-10-2 though, so swing back the other way again, they’ve won two of their last three road games with the only loss coming last week to Atlanta United.

When it comes to Sporting’s home form, it’s good but not great. They have managed a 9-2-3 record, but they did only lose once at home last year. The good thing is SKC are undefeated at home over the last two months and only a banged up team gave up a victory to first place FC Dallas in the last home loss. To keep this bipolar theme going, Sporting are suddenly kind of banged up again, at least when it comes to center forward. More on that in a moment.

As for last week, can we blame it on the rain and a terrible pitch? I’m not sure we can, but this becomes a true test. This is a big game against a team that is only six points behind in the standings and is a hated rival. If Sporting KC can’t get up for this game, it’s time to really worry in my eyes. SKC could leave the weekend in first place or they could slip to third and out of a first round bye.

Salt Lake’s Roster Changes

We tackled the bulk of the roster changes for RSL in the first preview this year, so if you are interested in that, head over here. Since that game they parted ways with 2018 addition Alfredo Ortuño who was a complete flop. They have added a backup goalkeeper in Andrew Punta and defender Nedum Onouha.

The real impactful change comes from a prior 2018 addition, Damir Kreilach. Kreilach is a midfielder by trade but has at times been playing a bit of a false nine and he’s racking up the goals. He leads the team with 11 goals and has added another six helpers. He’s a player to watch on Sunday.


Sporting KC

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

QUESTIONABLE: Khiry Shelton (knee), Roger Espinoza (back spasms)

Real Salt Lake

OUT: Tony Beltran (right knee surgery), Jordan Allen (knee surgery), Alex Horwath (Achilles surgery), David Horst (Achilles surgery)

QUESTIONABLE: Demar Phillips (hamstring injury)


Sporting KC - None

Real Salt Lake - None (Marcelo Silva, Brooks Lennon, Kyle Beckerman & Sunny suspended next yellow 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)

Real Salt Lake

Goals: Damir Kreilach (11), Albert Rusnak (10), Joao Plata (8), Jefferson Savarino, Corey Baird (6), Luis Silva (5)

Assists: Savarino (10), Plata, Rusnak (7), Kreilach (6), Brooks Lennon (5), Sebastian Saucedo, Baird (4)

Recent Performances

Sporting KC - W/L/W/W/L (9 points)

Real Salt Lake - W/W/W/D/L (10 points)

Starting XI Predictions

Suddenly there is a bit of an injury problem on Sporting KC. It’s just one position that is really suffering and that’s center forward. Diego Rubio apparently picked up an injury while on National Team duty with Chile and Khiry Shelton is still on the road to recovery from his knee surgery. Considering those two players have the most starts at CF this year, it’s a nice luxury to have Krisztian Nemeth as another option. However, he hasn’t performed up to expectations. It’s just soooo clear he plays much differently than Rubio and Shelton and the team isn’t the same with him up there. I won’t say it’s worse, it’s just different. It will be interesting to see who plays but Nemeth would seem to have the leg up because of injuries and by extension, fitness.

The next dilemma is not injury related but performance related. Daniel Salloi was out of form and lost his starting spot. Gerso has started a ton lately but despite great runs he had awful finishing that arguably cost the team at least a point. Then again, he’s the only player who found himself in a position to score. Let’s blame the rain/pitch and assume Gerso starts again.

It’s who goes opposite him that is up in the air. Russell started last week and looked OK, but not great. Salloi came on as a sub and looked decent. Even Croizet got on as a winger again (though he arguably played his worst game in recent memory). For me Croizet should return to his super-sub midfield role at most. I’d love to see Salloi and Nemeth come out and play together if Rubio/Shelton aren’t recovered enough to steal Nemeth’s spot. No matter who starts, whatever winger doesn’t start needs at least 25-30 minutes to come on and make an impact.

The other positions aren’t really in jeopardy but there is one I’d look at. That’s Roger Espinoza. He was abysmal versus Philadelphia and turned the ball over at least three times in the first 10 minutes. If Croizet did that we’d call for his head. Roger needs to get rest periodically, though I don’t imagine he will. Vermes has subbed him off a couple times, but he never elects not to start him. PV has been quoted as saying Gutierrez is really a #8 so maybe start Busio or even Croizet to give Roger a rest. If nothing, don’t sub him off for 5-7 minutes, give him a true break. Again, it won’t happen, but it’s my opinion.

Rest of the 18: Zendejas, Croizet, Fontas, Busio, Shelton, Lindsey, Russell

I’m guessing the Rubio injury is worse than anyone is telling us. Let’s hope that’s not true and he’s at least back on the bench.

[The fan vote is a little more varied after the loss. The only differences in the above lineup and the fan vote is Russell in over Salloi and Rubio over Nemeth (which I’m for, but injury concerns make me lean otherwise). The voting is a bit closer this week two with the following non-starters getting the most votes: Salloi (36.6%), Fontas (26.8%), Nemeth (24.4%) and Lindsey (22%).]

I finally stopped sitting on the fence and picked SKC to win last week and look what we got. Ugh. This is a game Sporting KC really needs to win. It’s at home. It’s against a team chasing them in the standings. For that reason, I’ll go back to being negative and hope for the opposite.

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.