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Sporting KC v Real Salt Lake: Preview, Predictions, Starting XI, Stats, Injuries

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A match-up with the team Benny hates the most.

MLS: Western Conference Semifinal-Real Salt Lake at Sporting KC William Purnell-USA TODAY Sports

Sporting KC @ Real Salt Lake (#RSLvSKC)

When: Saturday, June 29, 2019 at 9:00 PM CT

Where: Rio Tinto Stadium

How to Watch/Stream: Fox Sports Kansas City | Fox Sports Go | ESPN+
How to Listen: Sports Radio 810 WHB | ESPN Deportes KC 1480 AM

Last Sunday marked the first time Sporting Kansas City found victory on the road in 2019 in MLS play. They’ll be looking to double their road win total with a trip to Sandy, Utah on Saturday to face their bitter rival, Real Salt Lake.

They’ll face a RSL team that will return home after a very unsuccessful three game road trip that saw them go 0-2-1 with a negative six goal differential over that stretch. Lucky for RSL fans their team is much better, though not invincible, at home (going 4-2-0 on the year).

No matter the form of either team, both clubs always get up for each other. With Benny Feilhaber returning to KC the heated rivalry with Salt Lake and Kyle Beckerman should pick right up where it left off. It’ll also mark the chance for the Besler brothers (Matt and Nick) to face off again, though Nick was torched by KC last year and isn’t a regular starter for Mike Petke’s RSL defense.

Interesting Stats

  • Sporting KC are 2-6-6 in their last 14 meetings with RSL across all MLS competitions (regular season and playoffs)
  • SKC played RSL fives times in 2018 and went 2-1-2

What’s Changed for Salt Lake in 2019?

Salt Lake are a team that doesn’t rely on stars (though they have a few). Instead, they are heavily dependent on youth and Homegrown signings. Their biggest lost from 2018 is probably fullback Danilo Acosta who is on loan with Orlando City, though he wasn’t a regular starter which is why he’s not with the team.

Outside of him the team lost veterans Sunny and Luis Silva as well as defenders David Horst and Demar Phillips. On the ‘additions’ side the team added five Homegrown players (Vazquez, Ochoa, Arriaga, Holt and Holt) as well as Designated Player forward Sam Johnson via transfer from Valerenga and midfielder Everton Luiz on loan from SPAL in Italy.

Injuries

Sporting KC

OUT - Erik Hurtado (knee surgery and wrist surgery), Jaylin Lindsey (torn meniscus and wrist surgery), Rodney Wallace (hip injury), Roger Espinoza (PCL), Jimmy Medranda (hamstring), Gianluca Busio (head), Johnny Russell (leg)

QUESTIONABLE - Graham Zusi (abductor strain)

*This story has no injury changes since the mid-week report.

Real Salt Lake

OUT - Jordan Allen (knee injury)

QUESTIONABLE - Tony Beltran (knee injury)

International Duty

Sporting KC - None

Real Salt Lake - Jefferson Savarino (Venezuela)

Suspensions

Sporting KC - None

Real Salt Lake - None (Kyle Beckerman suspended next yellow card)

Stats

Sporting KC

GOALS - Krisztian Nemeth, Johnny Russell, Felipe Gutierrez (7), Gianluca Busio (3), Ilie Sanchez, Yohan Croizet (1)

ASSISTS - Johnny Russell, Ilie Sanchez, Gerso Fernandes (3), Roger Espinoza, Graham Zusi, Yohan Croizet, Kelyn Rowe (2), Felipe Gutierrez, Krisztian Nemeth, Nicolas Hasler (1)

(It’s telling that Espinoza is still 2nd in assists after being out for months.)

Real Salt Lake

GOALS - Albert Rusnak (6), Sam Johnson (5), Damir Kreilach, Jefferson Savarino (3), Sebastian Saucedo (2), three with one

ASSISTS - Nick Besler, Saucedo, Corey Baird, Rusnak (2), six with one

Starting XI Predictions

Just when it seems Sporting KC may finally be getting healthy three new names showed up on the injury report (technically two, but Russell’s injury was announced just before Sunday’s game). Jimmy Medranda (hamstring) and Johnny Russell (leg) are currently day-to-day but Gianluca Busio is likely out a bit longer with a head injury. That could mean anything from they’ll both start or that they’ll be unavailable again.

If Russell is available Sporting can probably put out their best lineup that doesn’t include the long-term injury to Roger Espinoza. There are only a few spots up for grab though. Russell might not be fully fit to take back his job from Salloi. Gerso and Nemeth are surefire starters. The midfield should be unchanged with Ilie, Feilhaber and Gutierrez.

The backline is the biggest question mark. Zusi has been pretty terrible in 2019 but Botond Barath seemed to bail him out last weekend. His poor defense could really be exploited by players like Bofo Saucedo who could beat him with pace or with his borderline Olympic diving skills. I’d start Hasler but PV probably goes with Zusi.

Seth Sinovic will probably start at left back, but his lack of pace leaves something to be desired too. Seth’s steady defense is probably a better bet than Medranda who is both coming off an injury and a terrible performance in his only start of 2019 (against Minnesota United).

The final questions are around center back. Matt Besler should start, though he came out with a planned sub around the 60-minute mark last weekend. Hopefully he has 90 minutes in him but who lines up next to him is all but assured. Barath is the more athletic partner but if everyone is fully healthy, Fontas’ possession style is what Peter Vermes is striving for the entire team to play like. If Zusi starts, Barath should probably be next to him. If it’s Fontas, Hasler would be better cover for his lack of pace.

Rest of the 18: Zendejas, Fontas, Medranda, Russell, Hasler, Croizet, Rowe

Swope Park don’t play until Sunday so no clues as to who will be gone again but good bets are Graham Smith, Tyler Freeman, Eric Dick and Wan Kuzain. One to watch is Gedion Zelalem who actually got on the field for Sporting ahead of Rowe and Croizet last week but he seems like a larger candidate for an SPR loan to get more consistent minutes.

Fan Starting XI

The fan vote was in agreement with me that Hasler should start over Zusi (77.3% to a mere 22.7%) and you all are mostly confident that Russell will return as he got 59.1% of the vote. The other starters are the same with Melia finally getting 100% of the vote as Eric Dick’s mom forgot to get her weekly vote in (we kid Eric). Here are the other players to get the most votes who are non-starters: Salloi (36.4%), Fontas (25%), Medranda [LB] (18.2%), Medranda [mid] (15.9%) and Zelalem (11.4%).

Prediction

If Sporting KC are going to build on the win in Ohio, they need to get points against RSL. They especially need points against Western Conference opponents. Of their four wins this season only one has come against a team in the West (Seattle Sounders). These games can be six point swings. Especially when they are just a point behind RSL and two points out of the final playoff spot after Wednesday’s games. Their record in Utah is poor, so a draw would be a success.

2-2 Draw

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 (or right).

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