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With no Rubio, Salloi or Russell, Who Plays Forward for Sporting KC?

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Lots of options despite international absences.

MLS: Minnesota United FC at Sporting KC Peter G. Aiken

A trio of international call-ups for Sporting Kansas City suddenly makes the game against Orlando City SC a lot more sketchy than it otherwise would have been. First, Daniel Salloi got a second call-up to the full Hungarian National Team after turning down the first call-up. Oddly, that first call-up was turned down because of a pending Green Card, though nothing has come through that front since. Second, Johnny Russell got the call to represent Scotland. And finally, in the most surprising call-up, Diego Rubio makes his first return to represent Chile after a seven year absence.

With Rubio, Russell and Salloi all out for at least the game on Saturday against Orlando (and possibly for the following Saturday against the San Jose Earthquakes) it’s time to look at the options to play across the front line.

Likely Starters: Nemeth & Gerso

First, Gerso Fernandes. He has started all but one game since the beginning of June. Thats 12 starts and 13 appearances. It hasn’t always been pretty over that time, but he’s scored twice and assisted two additional goals. He is still firmly the third best winger on this team behind Salloi and Russell, but with them gone, he’s in.

As for Krisztian Nemeth, he’s the only healthy center forward on the roster who isn’t gone. Khiry Shelton might not be 100% ready and he’s definitely not 90 minutes fit. Nemeth has yet to play a full game this MLS season and his longest appearance for Sporting KC is just 18 minutes (64 minutes in four games with SKC). In that limited time he has just a single assist but his chance to press for the starting job starts Saturday when he’ll face former teammate and striking partner Dom Dwyer. If he fails on Saturday, Orlando fans will think they won the Dwyer trade (of course we know better regardless of outcome).

Who is the Third Starter?

With Gerso and Nemeth penciled in, who sets up on the other wing? There are a plethora of options.

Yohan Croizet

Possibly the least wanted starter may be the most likely. Early in the season with Felipe Gutierrez pushing Croizet out of the midfield and to the wing, the experiment failed badly. Since then, Croizet has mostly played in the midfield and even got a little time at center forward, which actually may be a better option (though a bad one) with Nemeth sliding to the wing.

Croizet has undoubtedly improved in recent months, though only marginally. His best games are when he comes off the bench and can be a wrecking ball through a tired defense. No offense to Yohan, but I have zero desire to see him start on the wing or at CF.

Kharlton Belmar

Probably my favorite option of the bunch is Belmar. He has primarily played as a winger with the Swope Park Rangers this season, despite getting some CF minutes for SKC. Belmar is actually in a bit of a slump right now for Swope which could hurt his odds. He had scored nine goals in nine games at one point, but now he’s still on nine after 15 games. He’s also sat out the last few SPR games as he picked up an injury. It’s just listed as a knee sprain but knee injuries have lingered on this team this year (see: Lobato, Medranda).

All that said, Belmar has pace for days and he can really stretch a defense. He probably deserves a shot to get on the pitch, even if he isn’t starting.

Khiry Shelton

One sneaky option that Peter Vermes could have in his back pocket is Shelton. He’s in his window to return and he’s practiced this week and last week. He definitely doesn’t have 90 minutes in him, but he could return and push Nemeth to the wing at least at the beginning of the game.

I’ve made it pretty clear I’m not a Shelton fan. He plays really hard but his lack of scoring is something I just can’t get past. Rubio has shown he can do the things Shelton did AND score. I’m spoiled by that. This could be the play on Saturday though.

Gianluca Busio

This is probably a long shot but Busio has played up front in the SKC Academy and he could fill in here for spot duty. It feels unlikely, but it’s a possibility. He has played very little in MLS this year and it was exclusively in the midfield. He has played more for SPR but all that’s in the middle as well.

Hadji Barry

This is a true long shot. Barry is currently on a SPR contract and he would have to be signed to a full team contract to play for Sporting. It seems unlikely to happen but Barry has been very hot lately. He’s scored in four straight games with the Rangers and he leads the team with 12 goals. He’s also tied with Colton Storm for the assist lead with five. I’d give this a very low chance of happening but it’s not out of the realm of possibility.

If Barry gets a contract with Sporting KC to come up for this game it seems very unlikely he’ll still be around at the end of the year. Players on USL contracts tend to move around a lot anyways, so maybe it’s worth doing. That said, it won’t happen.

Graham Zusi

Zues can and has played the wing but with Jaylin Lindsey going out on international duty there are no other right backs on the roster not named Colton Storm, so not to knock Storm, but that isn’t happening.

Cristian Lobato

If he weren’t still hurt, this would be a fairly good option. You may disagree but against an abysmal Minnesota United team he lit it up. He’s a good fit on the wing for SKC now because he has a good first touch and he is an accurate passer. His finishing isn’t great, but he does have two goals in very limited minutes this year (even if one came against a nine man Vancouver Whitecaps team). He hasn’t been consistently participating in practice, so count him out.

Roger Espinoza

In a few situations last year, Espinoza played on the wing. It’s possible but I’d be stunned.

We’ll know in a couple days who starts. Chime in below. Who do you think should start? Who did we leave off the list? Let us know in the comments.