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Who Should Start for Suspended Espinoza and Ilie?

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Two red cards means two chances to get some youth on the field.

MLS: Sporting KC at Los Angeles Galaxy
God I miss these jerseys. I’m calling 2019 the curse of the tire track jersey.
Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

In last Sunday’s disappointing draw against the Portland Timbers, Sporting Kansas City saw not one but two red cards. It marked the third consecutive SKC game where at least one team finished the game without the full compliment of players. It also was an historic red card.

Roger Espinoza’s red card make him the all-time MLS leader in red cards and he did it at a quicker rate than Jamison Olave earned his 10 red cards. It’s also the third red card of the year for Espinoza which is made even worse by the fact that he missed a huge chunk of the season with an injury.

Espinoza has gotten three red cards in 1,149 minutes in 2019. That’s one every 383 minutes or one every 4.26 games. Yikes.

Joining him on suspension is Ilie Sanchez who picked up a red for denial of an obvious goal scoring opportunity (DOGSO). Basically, Ilie didn’t make a play on the ball, so he was shown red and his foul setup the game tying penalty kick.

That leaves us with two questions for Sunday against FC Dallas.

Who Plays for Ilie?

This one is easy. Felipe Gutierrez. When Ilie has been out in 2019 due to injuries, suspensions, being out of favor or simply because he was playing center back, Gutierrez stepped in every single time. There is an argument to ‘play the kids’ and that would mean Wan Kuzain steps in to start. However, he hasn’t been playing that position for the Swope Park Rangers (he’s been in more of a #8 role with Ayyoub Allach playing the holding mid) and that would hinder my plan for question #2.

Who Plays for Espinoza?

There are lots of options here and with Gutierrez sliding back deeper in the midfield, we’ll have to pick two of the options below.

Gianluca Busio

I’m fairly confident Busio will get one of the two spots. First, he’s started the last two games in Gutierrez’s more advanced midfield spot (the 8/10 hybrid). Second, he’s played more than any other midfielder that is available on the roster (as of now, Benny Feilhaber is still out injured).

On the minutes played, it’s not really close. He has 833 league minutes and the next closest midfielder is Gedion Zelalem who has just 436 minutes and has vanished from both the SKC and SPR lineups over recent months. Next is Medranda with just 160 minutes (and they aren’t all in the midfield) and Felipe Hernandez with only five MLS minutes. Wan Kuzain hasn’t played in MLS in 2019.

Jimmy Medranda

It’s possible Medranda gets the run out next to Busio. He’s bounced from left back to winger to center forward (?) to midfielder in his time with SKC and SPR this year. He often doesn’t put in a 90 minute shift with SKC or SPR but his athleticism would help in the midfield. Some believe that Medranda’s best spot may be in the midfield and I know I used to think that. At this point, he doesn’t play anywhere consistently enough for me to be assured I’m right on that anymore. Maybe in 2020.

Felipe Hernandez

This is my pick. Sure he’s young (he’s just 21-years-old — remember Busio is only 17) but he’s more than earned a shot. He’s second in minutes on the Swope Park Rangers (2,350) and he has an Espinoza-like tenacity in the midfield with the B team. He’s been in the Sporting KC system for years moving from an affiliate club to the SKC Academy to SPR to the first team. On top of all that, he is second on the Rangers with eight goals. An Espinoza like tenacity plus goal scoring? Yes please!

Wan Kuzain

As mentioned above, he has zero MLS minutes in 2019. He does have 1,697 minutes with the Rangers, but really, he’s a holding midfielder. I’d rather see Gutierrez in that role to give a veteran presence behind what will be two younger, forward midfielders (barring a Feilhaber injury recovery).

Gedion Zelalem

He’s missing. Reportedly he and Yohan Croizet got into it and neither have been seen since. Don’t expect that to change on Sunday.

Benny Feilhaber

As far as we know, he’s still hurt. Even if he wasn’t, there is no point in playing him in a meaningless game (even if it could be farewell for the second time).

Graham Zusi

He’ll probably start at right back (though I’d totally be cool if Jaylin Lindsey finally got a run out). While Zusi has played midfielder in the past and it could be argued he’s in the midfield mostly while at RB, I just don’t see this happening.

My Midfield?

#6 (Holding Mid): Felipe Gutierrez

#8 (Box-to-Box Mid): Felipe Hernandez

#10 (Attacking Mid): Gianluca Busio

We’ll see how wrong I am come Sunday.