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Double Header Preview: Sporting KC v Phoenix Rising FC

Two 75 minute games are going down this Thursday as SKC creep closer to the start of CCL play.

Vancouver Whitecaps II v Phoenix Rising FC
No Drogba, but SKC return to the desert to face Phoenix Rising FC.
Photo by Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images

Sporting KC @ Phoenix Rising FC (#PHXvSKC)

Thursday, February 7, 2019 // 7 PM CT

How to Watch: Per Phoenix Rising: “The match, consisting of two 75 minute segments, will not be streamed or broadcasted live.” Follow @PlayFor90, @SKCMatchday and @PhxRisingFC for live updates on Twitter.

The first phase of preseason has come to an end and there are just four* games remaining until Sporting Kansas City start playing games that count. Two of the “four” games come on Thursday as Sporting KC return to Scottsdale, Arizona for the second leg of preseason. They will follow this double header with simultaneous games next Wednesday, February 13th.

The opponent Thursday is Phoenix Rising FC of the USL Championship. SKC and Phoenix will play two 75-minute games. PRFC are coming off a successful 2018 campaign going all the way to the USL Cup Final before falling to Louisville City FC. Sporting KC played Phoenix in the 2018 preseason as well, coming up with a 2-1 victory on the backs of goals from Ilie Sanchez and Daniel Salloi. The lone Phoenix goal came early on a counter sprung from an Ike Opara giveaway.

Phoenix Roster Changes

Out is the biggest name in the club (and league) history in player/owner Didier Drogba. Despite Drogba’s departure, Phoenix Rising are still stacked offensively. Back are attacking players Jason Johnson, Gladson Awako, Alessandro Riggi, Solomon Asante and Devin Vega. They also added Joey Calistri, Jose Aguinaga, Junior Flemmings and former Columbus Crew forward Adam Jahn.

Overall, PRFC returned 13 players, which is quite high for a USL club. For comparison, KC’s B-Team the Swope Park Rangers returned just seven players for 2019. Among the returning players are former Sporting Kansas City players left back Amadou Dia and defensive midfielder James Musa.

Preseason Stats

First, PRFC. There isn’t much to talk about because the club has only played a single preseason game. They played another MLS club, Minnesota United FC and managed a 0-0 draw.

Sporting KC on the other hand has already played five scrimmages of varying lengths. The first game was 90 minutes with three separate squads. The second game went 120 minutes with two groups getting 45 minutes and the final group getting 30 minutes. Then the club played three 60 minute scrimmages last week. Here are the full rundowns:

GOALS - Krisztian Nemeth, Kelyn Rowe (3), Yohan Croizet, Johnny Russell, Wilson Harris (2), Graham Zusi, Daniel Salloi, Seth Sinovic, Gianluca Busio, Tyler Freeman, Erik Hurtado, Justin Bilyeu, Felipe Hernandez (1)

ASSISTS - Zusi, Salloi (2), Croizet, Sinovic, Busio, Freeman, Rodney Wallace, Gerso Fernandes (1)

Full Preseason Stats

What to Expect from Sporting KC

While SKC are rapidly running out of preseason games to prepare for Toluca FC and the CONCACAF Champions League, head coach Peter Vermes continues to stress that the team is primarily working towards fitness and on chemistry. I suspect we’ll see the two lineups split again, much like over the last several games, and barring injuries I suspect the lineup put on the field will play the full 75 minutes in each of the two 75-minute games.

The first team Vermes has put out over the first several preseason games has remained primarily the same. The only changes were when Nemeth returned from injury, replacing Hurtado in the Starting XI and when Salloi replaced Gerso in the third game. The team has been back in KC for the last few days and there could be wholesale changes, but I suspect we’ll see a pretty strong 11 players on the field with the first group.

First XI Prediction - (back to front, right to left) - Tim Melia, Zusi, Andreu Fontas, Matt Besler, Rodney Wallace, Ilie, Rowe, Felipe Gutierrez, Russell, Nemeth, Salloi

Second XI Prediction - Adrian Zendejas, Jaylin Lindsey, Botond Borath, Graham Smith, Sinovic, Wan Kuzain, Roger Espinoza, Busio, Croizet, Hurtado, Gerso

While it’s unclear if we’ll see the third 11 players again, I suspect they may be available as subs partially, but a good chunk of them have joined the Swope Park Rangers for preseason which kicked off last weekend. We could see substitute appearances by draft picks Kamar Marriott, Camden Riley, Franky Martinez or 16-year-old rookie Tyler Freeman, but I suspect Vermes wants 75 minutes fully for both of his first groups. New signing Abdul Rwatubyaye is unlikely to join the team for a couple weeks per Vermes.

What to Expect from PRFC

Phoenix will have their work cut out for them on Thursday. They are just getting started in preseason and will likely not be as far along on their fitness as Sporting. Their season is also about six weeks away (while SKC play on the 21st of February) so their roster build is likely incomplete. It is likely their lineup will feature a mix of rostered players, players from their USL League One affiliate FC Tucson as well as players on trial. To add to the difficulty, Phoenix added a preseason game three days later against the New York Red Bulls.

Prediction

If Sporting don’t win both games, I would say that’s a disappointment. They are about to jump into CCL play against Toluca FC who are in the early stages of their Clausura season. If SKC struggle to beat a team in the division below them that are just getting to know one another, it would seem to point to trouble ahead in CCL.

Even though I am going to predict two SKC wins on Thursday night, Phoenix Rising tend to play good defense and have ridiculous speed that could catch Sporting KC on the counter. In the early scrimmages the lower division clubs have had a couple breakaways but all the SKC goalkeepers have managed to keep ball out of their net. I would guess at least one counter will break through on Thursday.

GAME ONE - Sporting KC win 3-1

GAME TWO - Sporting KC win 1-0