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CCL Preview: Sporting KC v CA Independiente

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The “easiest” second round opponent just became a lot more difficult.

MLS: Champions League-Toluca at Sporting KC Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Teams: Sporting KC v Club Atletico Independiente (#CAIvSKC)

When: Wednesday, March, 6th at 7:00 PM CT

Where: Estadio Agustin Sanchez

How to Watch: Univision Deportes | YahooSports.com

What a difference three days makes. After finishing off Liga MX opponents Toluca FC with a 5-0 aggregate score, Sporting Kansas City stayed on the road against LAFC and faltered in the 94th minute. Before the game in LA, the internet was abuzz that Sporting KC could be the best team in MLS. They still could be, but suddenly they have a much tougher task to overcome in Panama.

The biggest issue is the utter lack of squad rotation from Peter Vermes. We’ve already dedicated a story to that and numerous fans have commented on The Blue Testament as well as other places agreeing with that take. Exhaustion is going to be an issue in Panama.

Who are CA Independiente?

The best way to learn about CAI is through a scouting report by TBT community member Farmhand who did a little Spanish translation for us all and dug in on who CAI are. To paraphrase, they are a club who play in a tiny stadium with a turf field in the 10 team Panamanian first division and only re-reached that division in 2017 before winning the league in 2018. They actually share the stadium with their in-city rival San Francisco. CAI are putting all their emphasis on CONCACAF Champions League and they put a beating on Toronto a week and a half ago in this very competition at home.

For a deeper dive, head over and read Sam Kovzan’s piece on the official club site. He takes an incredibly deep look that we can’t hope to replicate.

Injuries

Sporting KC

OUT - Andreu Fontas (hip pointer), Jimmy Medranda (knee surgery)

QUESTIONABLE - Gianluca Busio (quad), everyone else (fatigue)

Independiente

OUT/QUESTIONABLE - None

Suspensions

Sporting KC - None (Seth Sinovic suspended next yellow card)

Independiente - None (Juan Gonzalez, Gerardo Negrete, Omar Browne, Abdiel Ayarza, Romeesh Ivey and Ruben Barrow suspended next yellow)

CCL Stats

Sporting KC

GOALS - Krisztian Nemeth, Gerso Fernandes (2), Ilie Sanchez (1)

ASSISTS - Gerso, Roger Espinoza (1)

Independiente

GOALS - Omar Browne, Romeesh Ivey (2), Jorman Aguilar (1)

ASSISTS - Ivey, Aguilar, Juan Gonzalez (1)

Starting XI

SKC have to rotate their squad, right? RIGHT?!?! With their third game in seven days happening on Wednesday, it seems it’d be a mistake not to. Especially with all the travel the team is enduring. I suspect some players will remain on the field for their leadership and just utter importance to the team. If anything, rest them against the Philadelphia Union and preserve hope in a CCL win.

Even Vermes indicated rotation was coming during his media call after the game against Los Angeles Football Club. “Where we’re going to have to start monitoring [squad rotation] really closely and probably rotating it around is Wednesday and Sunday,” said Vermes. “It’s cumulative at that moment.”

The players who I can’t imagine will rest are Tim Melia, Matt Besler and Ilie Sanchez. You could maybe put Graham Zusi and Johnny Russell on that list, but they looked visibly tired. One possibility not to rest is also Roger Espinoza who will get Sunday off at Children’s Mercy Park in the MLS home opener because of the red card he picked up this past weekend. Plus that guy has CONCACAF written all over him.

If I’m right, then we can expect a back line overhaul in the form of new signing Rodney Wallace, Hungarian import and Fontas injury replacement Botond Barath and second year right back Jaylin Lindsey.

In the midfield Kelyn Rowe is an obvious starter and if healthy, Gianluca Busio could be paired with him if Roger isn’t ready to go. If nothing, start Busio and have Roger ready to come on.

Up front Krisztian Nemeth was questionable with an ankle injury before the LAFC game but he played all 90. Resting him, at least for 60 minutes or so, seems like a logical choice. Daniel Salloi needs to start since he was a 2018 club Golden Boot winner and he’s only seen a few minutes over the last couple of games.

The final big question is who plays on the other wing. Russell may be the clubs biggest star, but he seemed tired on Sunday. Gerso got a small 17 minute rest on Sunday, so he could slot back in. But the man that lined up with the second team in preseason on the wing was Yohan Croizet. His propensity to lose the ball is much less dangerous from the wing than the midfield and he was a Designated Player in 2018, so it seems you have to try to get him on the field. Especially as he was much improved late in the year and through a portion of preseason.

It’s always possible PV experiments with a different formation, but straying from the 4-3-3 seems like a mistake with so much else in flux.

Rest of the 18: Adrian Zendejas, Graham Smith, Johnny Russell, Gianluca Busio, Graham Zusi, Krisztian Nemeth, Gerso

Whatever happens, I don’t want to see other “starters” on the field subbed on until at least the 60th minute, if not later. Unfortunately, I could see halftime subs made from Vermes, as he’s done in the past when the team struggles. Hopefully the second unit can run over Panama’s CAI and make that a moot point.

Community XI

The fan vote showed the confusion we expected from everyone after the lineup Vermes put out Sunday in LA. Despite that, only one starter was different. You all had Johnny Russell in over Yohan Croizet on the wing. Here are the top vote getters for non-starters: Nemeth (41.9%), Zusi (38.7%), Croizet [wing] (36.6%), Sinovic (32.3%), Gutierrez (31.2%), Croizet [mid] (30.1%), Gerso (23.4%), Busio (22.6%) and Kuzain (17%).

Prediction(s)

All bets are off at this point. The speed of CAI really dictates the need for fresh legs in defense. A tired Zusi or Sinovic could get torn apart by the speedy attackers of Independiente. If Vermes rolls out the same lineup, I think it could be an utter disaster. If he effectively rotates the squad, there is no reason this team can’t at least earn a draw that involves goals on the road. That would be a good outcome only trumped by a win.

Prediction: 1-1 Draw (w/ squad rotation) OR Independiente 2-1 Win (w/o rotation)

What do you all think? Let us know in the comments or on Twitter.