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What Happened to Sporting KC Having Two Full Teams?

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Vermes has to Shuffle his Lineup for Panama

MLS: Sporting Kansas City at Los Angeles FC Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

On Sunday, Sporting Kansas City suffered a crushing defeat in the dying moments on the road against Los Angeles Football Club. It comes on the heels of Sporting KC playing on the road in Mexico against Toluca FC on that prior Thursday. To compound matters further, Sporting immediately left Los Angeles to head to Panama to play CA Independiente in the CONCACAF Champions League. That will be the clubs third game in just seven days. Many of us at The Blue Testament, MLS pundits and fans at large expected wholesale lineup changes against LAFC on Sunday, but instead the exact same lineup from Thursday played again.

Hindsight is 20/20 but it clearly looks like a mistake in retrospective. Now SKC have an exhausted group of starters that almost assuredly have to rest in Panama against a team that put four goals on Toronto FC at home just a week and a half ago. Had Peter Vermes rested some or all of his starters against LA, he would have done no worse (Sporting lost after all) and he’d have a majority of his players ready for the first leg in Panama.

Instead he gambled that his starters could play after they had just played 90 minutes each at extreme altitude (most of them at least). It becomes unclear what PV’s plan is. Through much of 2018 and all of the 2019 preseason he talked about how the club was prioritizing CCL and that the squad was so deep he has two full teams.

But instead of playing that second team in the game that likely made the most sense to do so, the second team almost assuredly has to play in Panama in a big game. Well, “almost assuredly” is probably a misstep for one to say. For all we know the exact same starters will play again and will truly test the limits of their fitness, though I don’t expect that to happen. One player who won’t start again is Andreu Fontas who has a hip pointer and headed back to Kansas City instead of making the trip to Panama in hopes of having him for the Philadelphia Union game.

Vermes: “I don’t think today’s result had anything to do with fatigue”

According to Vermes, it’s not about fatigue. During the conference call after the game he went on to say tell the media that LAFC are “a good team. Give them credit for that.” While no one here is going to dispute that LAFC are a good team, both things can be true. Sporting KC were mostly playing their game in the first half. They didn’t dominate possession like they did against Toluca, but they were doing quite well. They were still playing their altered 3-4-3 formation where Seth Sinovic was further into the attack and Zusi at times played as a right center back while they were in possession.

One thing was notable different in the first half. All the yellow cards that SKC picked up. In the first half Sporting picked up five yellow cards. And they started coming early. Felipe Gutierrez got one in the 10th minute, Gerso in the 17th, Seth Sinovic in the 27th and Roger Espinoza in the 31st. Late in the half Krisztian Nemeth picked up one in the 42nd as well. Some of those were just poor plays or relatively soft calls, but one has to wonder if fatigue made players just a step slow at times.

The cards continued in the second half and Espinoza’s second yellow may have been the final nail in Sporting’s proverbial coffin. On already tired legs, 10 players just weren’t quite enough to stop LAFC. Whether Vermes wants to admit it or not, fatigued played a factor. Just look at the final goal where Russell is just a step late getting back to help in defense.

So Who Starts on Wednesday?

One player who needs to start is probably Roger Espinoza. With him being suspended for next Sunday’s match against the Philadelphia Union, he almost needs to play because Gianluca Busio is dealing with an injury and Kelyn Rowe will likely start in place of Felipe Gutierrez. Another midfielder who may end up playing is Ilie Sanchez. His “backup” is probably Wan Kuzain, who played for the Swope Park Rangers over the weekend in preseason. He’s going to have to spell Ilie eventually, but he’s so important I suspect he’ll play Wednesday against CA Independiente.

In defense, Matt Besler will probably play but there are capable backup fullbacks in Rodney Wallace and Jaylin Lindsey who probably need to play. In addition, new signing Botond Barath will be the likely starter over an injured Fontas.

As for forwards, I truly thought that Nemeth was headed to the bench at halftime because he was running around like a player who knew they were being subbed off. Instead, he played all 90 minutes, partially that probably came because of the Fontas injury. I suspect Erik Hurtado will start over him, but I could see him coming in with 15-20 minutes to go if needed.

As for the wings, Daniel Salloi will definitely start. The question is do they start Yohan Croizet, as they did in preseason, on the opposite wing. Or could Yohan pair with Rowe in the midfield? If so, I fear Vermes would start Russell again. He looked clearly tired on Sunday and he could use the week off, then he can play in the next two games. If it’s not Croizet in Russell’s spot, the only other winger on the roster without all the minutes on his legs is 16-year-old rookie Tyler Freeman, who I don’t suspect will play. Gerso Fernandes could be played with Salloi as well as he did come off a little earlier as a sub, but not much.

Whatever happens with the lineup, Sporting KC need to at least get a draw on the road. Hopefully one in which they score at least a goal for the away goals rule. If things go bad in Panama, it will make the lineup against LAFC look like an even greater disaster than it looks like right now.

TL;DR

Sporting could have lost playing their backups on Sunday, just as well as they could have lost playing their starters. Now they’ve jeopardized their stated goal of winning CCL. Wednesday’s game is the end all be-all for this tournament with the home-leg jammed between two more MLS games.