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Opinion: Sporting KC Must Rest their Starters Against Monterrey

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The focus needs to turn to Major League Soccer.

Monterrey v Sporting KC - CONCACAF Champions League 2019 Photo by Azael Rodriguez/Getty Images

As you’ve no doubt heard, Sporting Kansas City lost in brutal fashion last Thursday on the road in Mexico by a crushing scoreline of 5-0. It seems blatantly obvious that Sporting KC should turn their focus to MLS and sacrifice the youth and Swope Park Rangers to the football gods. There is almost zero chance SKC can come back against Monterrey at home on Thursday.

However, a story on the team’s official site, makes it seem very likely they are going to go for it.

“There’s always a chance,” started forward Johnny Russell. “We didn’t do ourselves any justice in the away tie. We know how difficult it’s going to be. The odds are stacked against us for the home tie, but you never know. I’ve seen what this team’s capable of, and we’re capable of coming from behind.”

“The odds are stacked against us.” The understatement of the year. Sporting need to score five goals unanswered to just force PKs. In the unfortunate event they give up a goal, then they need to score seven. It’s an uphill climb.

“It would be great to do well in the game and see if we can make a run at it,” began head coach Peter Vermes. “[Monterrey] just lost 5-1 to Toluca, so stuff happens. I think we have a good team. I don’t think we are seven goals better than Montreal, and I don’t think we’re five goals worse than Monterrey. Sometimes games happen like that. We have to respond in the right way and I think today against Cincinnati was a good first step in the right direction.”

Stop it! Hope is Lost

Despite Sporting KC talking like they are going to push for the win, I’m here to plead with them that they must give it up. It would take the best performance possible from SKC and the worst performance possible from Monterrey.

It’s time to turn the attention to MLS play. With a shortened Major League Soccer season (number of days, not number of games), SKC need all the points they can get. They are currently in the seventh and final playoff spot in the West, but drifting towards the bottom of the playoff standings isn’t good enough. They are already eight points behind Los Angeles Football Club, though SKC have a game in hand.

If SKC throw out the starters on Thursday, then, while they’ll still likely play Sunday, they will be compromised against the New York Red Bulls. Sure RBNY have been a little off their game this year (ninth place with just four points through five games), they are a good team. If SKC drops more points in MLS, it will come back and bite them later.

With the 2019 MLS Playoff changes, sure seven teams in each conference get in, but it’s single elimination throughout with only the one seed getting a bye. Before last year, when Sporting KC were a one seed, they had been bounced from the playoffs in four straight years on the road in the first round. Points count the same whether you earn them in April or you earn them in the home stretch of the year. SKC need to start earning more points, and that means winning their home games.

Suggested Lineup

CONCACAF Champions League rules allow for SKC to have a roster of 35 players. Sporting are able to add players to the roster throughout the competition, though they may not remove them. So injured players like Jaylin Lindsey, Daniel Salloi and Erik Hurtado still take up spots. They are also required to roster three goalkeepers. Let’s assume all 28 players currently on the MLS roster are on the CCL roster.

That would still leave room to add up to seven players from the Swope Park Rangers. You may remember in a similar situation in the 2016–17 CONCACAF Champions League that SKC ran out a series of SPR players once all hope was lost. The difference was they were officially eliminated from that competition before that game started, unlike this Thursday.

Regardless, SKC should follow the same model this year. The easiest thing to do would be to play the lineup from Sunday against FC Cincinnati, but without playing any starters. So Ilie Sanchez, Johnny Russell and Andreu Fontas would go to the bench and Krisztian Nemeth, Seth Sinovic and Felipe Gutierrez wouldn’t sub on.

In their places you could do something like this. 16-year-old rookie Tyler Freeman in for Russell, or if you don’t want to break him use Rangers RW Jerome Ngom Mbekeli. For Ilie you can either risk Zelalem at the defensive midfielder spot and play Felipe Hernandez from SPR, or let Wan Kuzain play his preferred spot. If you want to rest Busio so that he can be first off the bench against RBNY, let Hernandez replace him and Kuzain go for Ilie.

At center back there are two SKC options. 2018 first round pick Graham Smith or recent Rwandan signing Abdul Rwatubyaye. Smith actually has first team minutes so he may be the more likely option.

As for left back, SPR players Justin Bilyeu (or if he’s hurt since he’s oddly been missing) or Alexsander can start.

Off the bench go all Swope Park. 19-year-old Wilson Harris is your backup striker. On the wing depth can come from Killian Colombie or in the midfield there are a handful of SKC Academy kids or Ayyoub Allach available.

Despite my hopes, it seems likely the starters will play, or at least some of them will.

Maybe it’s all a Ruse

I’m holding out hope that all the talk from Vermes and company about playing their starters is just a ploy to make Monterrey travel at least some of their starters. Although it could very well be a pride thing and Vermes and company may not want to go out of the Champions League like this. It’s understandable. If they do play their backups and the kids, the scoreline is likely to get a whole lot worse. No matter what though, they should do it. No need to let pride potentially cost the team more MLS points too.