On Sunday morning, Sam McDowell of the Kansas City Star broke news. “The likely starting group [for Sporting KC against FC Cincinnati] will include as few as two or three regulars.” That is both a surprise and not a surprise at the same time. Sporting Kansas City’s regulars mostly played 180+ minutes between last Saturday’s shellacking of the Montreal Impact and the horrific beatdown Monterrey handed SKC. But then again, Peter Vermes has said they should be able to play three times in a week.
The physical and mental toll of the week was so bad that, according to McDowell, “several of the team’s starters did not even travel this weekend [and were] told to stay home.” Of course your mind immediately goes to who can/should start. The obvious answers always falls back to two to three players. Matt Besler, Ilie Sanchez and Graham Zusi. They’ve all been ironmen and if you make me pick three, I’d pick them (though Zusi could use a mental break after Thursday’s disappointing game).
As one community member said and I echoed yesterday in my Swope Park Rangers story, we should have known roster rotation was coming based on the SPR lineup.
Let’s use what we know from the Swope Park game and see who might start at each position.
Goalkeeper: Neither GK featured for SPR, so I imagine Adrian Zendejas gets the start and Eric Dick is on the bench. Tim Melia stays home.
Right Back: Zusi could be one of the “three” starters in the initial lineup, but he played pretty awful on Thursday and it could be time for a rest. Jaylin Lindsey is out 4-5 months so that just leaves new signing Nicolas Hasler.
Center Backs: I’d be surprised if it isn’t Besler and Botond Barath. Fontas is coming off an injury and Besler never seems to rest (unless he is injured). Vermes could throw a curveball and put in Abdul Rwatubyaye who we’ve yet to see. He wasn’t with Swope yesterday. Graham Smith played 90 minutes in KC, so he’ll be off for sure.
Left Back: Seth Sinovic was in over his head on Thursday and needs a rest. Rodney Wallace is the only other left back (besides I guess Yohan Croizet*) on the roster. Start him.
Defensive Midfielder: Ilie Sanchez is the obvious choice. However, McDowell mentions former Arsenal man and United States youth international Gedion Zelalem by name in his piece. Zelalem wasn’t great at the #6 against USL competition and technically FC Cincinnati isn’t in the USL anymore. I wouldn’t risk it. Wan Kuzain played for SPR yesterday, so he’s out.
The Two #8s: The other two midfield spots are some of the toughest spots to pin down. Gianluca Busio also got mentioned by McDowell and he’s been the first choice over Kelyn Rowe basically all season. Is Zelalem the other more advanced midfielder? Because there aren’t enough healthy forwards on the roster, this may have to be the case as Rowe has already played RW once. Don’t completely rule out Felipe Gutierrez as he came off early Thursday. Then again, he would make a better sub in my mind.
Left Wing: Is the fifth game of the 2019 season the day the 16-year-old Homegrown Tyler Freeman makes his debut? I suspect it’s a strong yes. He didn’t play for the Rangers yesterday after playing LW in both of the first two games. The only way he doesn’t start here is if he starts at CF.
Center Forward: If it’s not Freeman, it has to be Yohan Croizet. McDowell did mention Busio as a possible CF, but he’s spent all of his time in the midfield in preseason and the regular season. Let him play where he is more familiar.
Right Wing: If the starters are resting, there are no options here except for Rowe. What I expect is Rowe to start and Russell to replace him (or maybe replace Zelalem and move Rowe to midfield). He came off early in Monterrey, he should/could have 20-30 minutes in him (if the game isn’t out of hand).
Starting XI Projection
Since both I and most of the community utterly botched who will be starting based on this new information from McDowell, I’ll take the liberty of guessing again.
Rest of the 18: Dick, Rwatubyaye, Russell, Gerso, Zusi, Gutierrez, Nemeth
It seems like a good idea to have some offensive firepower on the bench in case the game is close and they can push it over the top (though I wouldn’t rule out an incomplete bench). In my opinion, Vermes shouldn’t play starters Thursday so running them out for 20-30 minutes isn’t the worst idea. If it’s out of hand (though Cincy hasn’t shown a propensity to score that much) then make the starters play 90 outside of maybe Rwatubyaye for Besler and maybe Gutierrez for Ilie.