Due to yellow card accumulation, Sporting Kansas City will be without their anchor in the midfield. Outside of a minor injury earlier this year (costing him two starts), Ilie Sanchez has only not started one other game since joining Sporting KC. That was all the way back in September of 2017 against the Seattle Sounders just days before the club would go on to win the US Open Cup.
Who replaces him is a big question. In those injury games earlier this year the answer was Felipe Gutierrez (until Ilie eventually subbed on each time) but the team really loses something when Gutierrez isn’t playing further up in the midfield. Though Roger Espinoza was a full participant in practice this week, expecting him to return is probably foolish. Almost assuredly he won’t start, even if he does make a substitute appearance.
There are several other options to play defensive midfielder. The only other natural d-mid on the roster is Wan Kuzain Wan Kamal, though he just played Wednesday for the Swope Park Rangers and he’s yet to earn any first team minutes in 2019 and I don’t expect that will change.
Another option is Gedion Zelalem. He played d-mid for SPR earlier this year and he struggled a bit. To be fair to him, he had just joined the organization and probably hadn’t fully settled in. He has since started three of the last four MLS games and appeared in five straight games, so he’s a good candidate to be on the field. Though I suspect he’ll keep playing at his more advanced 8/10 hybrid position.
A dark horse to play could be Kelyn Rowe. He did just play Wednesday for the Swope Park Rangers but he lined up a defensive midfielder for SPR earlier in the year (in the game where Zelalem started there and was ultimately subbed off). I don’t expect it but Rowe definitely possess the skills to pull this off.
I think the best option is Benny Feilhaber. He recently lost his starting spot to Zelalem but in 2018 he played d-mid for Los Angeles Football Club. It could be argued they have been better without him as Eduard Atuesta has been a revelation.
Bizarrely, so have the Colorado Rapids but I suspect that has more to do with firing of head coach Anthony Hudson than anything Feilhaber was or wasn’t doing.
Despite all this, Benny has the skill set to play the role. He reads the game well and has the ability to play that long switch pass to the wingers that Sporting love so much to trigger the attack. My money is on Feilhaber.