Sporting KC @ Columbus Crew SC (#CLBvSKC)
When: Sunday, June 23, 2019 at 4:30 PM CT
Where: Mapfre Stadium
How to Watch/Stream: Fox Sports Kansas City Plus | Fox Sports Midwest Plus | ESPN+
How to Listen: Sports Radio 810 WHB | ESPN Deportes KC 1480 AM
The FIFA break is over and Sporting Kansas City and the Columbus Crew are set to return to action. Except, one team actually got a bit more of a break than the other. Sporting KC were thrashed by Minnesota United FC in the opening round of the US Open Cup. The Crew on the other hand defeated the Pittsburgh Riverhounds which earned them a home game against Atlanta United that they dropped on Tuesday and they’ll have short rest headed into Sunday’s SKC game.
Neither team is in particularly good form. They are both in 10th place in their respective conferences with Columbus ahead by a single point while SKC have a game in hand in the MLS season.
As you probably know Sporting KC have just a single win since the start of April (1-4-6). The Crew are actually looking worse even though they have two wins over that stretch. Drop off the April 6th win against the New England Revolution and the Crew are a horrific 1-8-1 in their last 10.
- SKC really have the upper hand on Columbus historically as they are 6-1-2 in their last nine meetings.
- Benny Feilhaber is a machine against Columbus with three goals and three assists in 10 games.
- Sporting KC have won three of their last six visits to Columbus (3-1-2) with the lone loss coming in August 2015.
- SKC have the league’s third best offense and 18th best defense. Bizarro-world. The Crew are 23rd in offense and 12th in defense.
What’s Changed for Columbus in 2019?
Short Answer? A whole freaking lot. New owner. New coaches. But the same city thankfully.
Obviously Gregg Berhalter is off coaching the United States National Team and in as his replacement is former Portland Timbers boss Caleb Porter. The bigger story is that the owners of the NFL’s Cleveland Browns rescued the Crew from Anthony Precourt and a potential relocation to Austin, Texas.
As far as the roster, they actually haven’t turned it over too much despite the coaching change. Only six players are out and seven new players are in. The biggest outs are quality players, but not superstars. Lalas Abubakar (on loan with the Colorado Rapids), Justin Meram (traded to Atlanta United) and Mike Grella (option declined). The biggest loss was officially a move that happened in 2018, but his loan back just ended, and that’s Zack Steffen who is on the way to Manchester City (but really right back out on loan).
Their additions probably don’t outweigh their subtractions, though it’s really close. In are David Accam (trade from Philadelphia Union, though he’s headed to Nashville SC in 2020), David Guzman (trade from Portland Timbers), Joe Bendik (trade from Orlando City) and Aboubacar Keita (Homegrown signing). Also back with Columbus is Waylon Francis who was acquired in a trade with the Seattle Sounders.
OUT - Erik Hurtado (knee surgery and wrist surgery), Jaylin Lindsey (torn meniscus and wrist surgery), Rodney Wallace (hip injury), Roger Espinoza (PCL)
QUESTIONABLE - Matt Besler (hamstring), Jimmy Medranda (hamstring), Gianluca Busio (head)
*This story has been updated with the official injury report.
OUT - Milton Valenzuela (torn ACL), Federico Higuain (ACL injury)
QUESTIONABLE - Waylon Francis (left thigh injury), Josh Williams (undisclosed injury)
Sporting KC - None
Columbus - Gyasi Zardes (United States), Will Trapp (United States)
Sporting KC - None
Columbus - None
GOALS - Krisztian Nemeth, Johnny Russell (7), Felipe Gutierrez (6), Gianluca Busio (3), Ilie Sanchez, Yohan Croizet (1)
ASSISTS - Johnny Russell, Ilie Sanchez (3), Roger Espinoza, Gerso Fernandes, Graham Zusi, Yohan Croizet, Kelyn Rowe (2), Felipe Gutierrez, Krisztian Nemeth, Nicolas Hasler (1)
GOALS - Zardes (6), Pedros Santos (4), Gaston Sauro (2), three with one
ASSISTS - Higuain (5), Robinho, Hector Jimenez, Santos (2), three with one
Starting XI Predictions
Sporting KC are still not healthy, but they are getting close. As of this writing, only four players are out with Roger Espinoza being the most notable. In addition, Matt Besler is listed as questionable with a hamstring injury that was originally described as “fatigue.” If Besler can play, he’s a difference maker. Even if he cannot, the return of Botond Barath should bolster a very shaky backline.
Who else plays in defense is very much in question. Andreu Fontas hasn’t covered himself in glory but he’s making over $1 million, so it would seem he’ll have all the chances to keep starting. If Besler isn’t healthy, maybe it’s possible Graham Smith gets the start as he looked better than to Barath than Fontas has.
At fullback Jimmy Medranda started against Minnesota but was personally responsible for at least one if not more goals. Seth Sinovic would bring some defensive stability. However, Sinovic starting could depend on who starts on the right.
Graham Zusi is a MLS All-Star but he’s having one of the worst seasons in recent memory. There is a strong case that Nicolas Hasler should start ahead of him. I’ve wondered out loud if Zusi is hurt because his sudden drop off is really tough to watch. Other possible explanations for Zusi’s drop off could be that undefeated bastard known as father time or the fact that Ike Opara isn’t next to Zusi to shield is bad defense. It’s not just Zusi’s defense but his passing has been awful too, which could be because the midfielder ahead of him isn’t Roger Espinoza as it was when he was playing well. Regardless, I’d start Hasler.
The midfield isn’t really in question. Ilie Sanchez, Benny Feilhaber and Felipe Gutierrez. Up front it’s probably not in doubt either. Nemeth and Russell are back from international duty. Gerso has started the last couple games and Salloi has been pretty poor in 2019. Salloi did look better at center forward, but he still can’t find a goal. He’ll be a solid option off the bench instead of being forced to play Kelyn Rowe or Yohan Croizet on the wing.
Rest of the 18: Zendejas, Barath, Medranda, Salloi, Busio, Zusi, Croizet
Barring some injuries in practice this week, SKC should have a full 18 for the first time (outside the Open Cup) in nearly two months. That’s a really strong bench. I couldn’t even find room for Kelyn Rowe. If Besler isn’t available, Smith ends up back in the lineup too so it’s nice to see SKC getting healthy.
The Swope Park Rangers play the Charleston Battery on Saturday at the road so watch that lineup to see who won’t be available in Ohio on Sunday. Maybe Busio goes on loan and Rowe rides the pine for SKC instead.
Fan Starting XI
The fan vote is very tight this week. You guys agree with me on the entire lineup except Barath is in ahead of Fontas (barely), but there were some players that got a lot of votes that won’t start. Here they are, highest to lowest: Fontas (49.2%), Medranda (44.4%), Zusi (44.4%), Salloi (17.5%) and Busio (14.3%).
It’s time to turn this season around. If Sporting KC can’t win against a tired and short-handed Columbus team, then they might never turn it around. They have back all their internationals and a good portion of their injured players. And remember, Seattle turned it around twice on July 4th. Sure, it’s not July 4th yet, but with the compressed season, June 23rd could be the new July 4th. Don’t make me regret picking a win (of which I’m less than confident they’ll pull off).
2-1 Sporting KC Win
What do you think? Predictions in the comments for both lineups and results are welcome. We can’t quite tell who you voted for in our other poll, so let us know why we are wrong.
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