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Sporting KC v Minnesota United: Preview, Predictions, Starting XI, Stats, Injuries

Ike Opara returns to KC for the first time.

MLS: U.S. Cup-Sporting KC at Minnesota United Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Sporting KC v Minnesota United (#SKCvMIN)

When: Thursday, August 22nd, 2019 at 8:30 PM CT

Where: Children’s Mercy Park

How to Watch/Stream: ESPN | ESPN+ (only if you have an active cable subscription paired with it)
How to Listen: Sports Radio 810 WHB | ESPN Deportes KC 1480 AM

It’s rivalry week in MLS and apparently the best the league could do for Sporting Kansas City was put them against Minnesota United, who are geographically close to them. #Rivalry

A more suitable choice would be Real Salt Lake or even the Houston Dynamo. Perhaps, because of geography and Minnesota suddenly being good, a rivalry will form. If nothing, it will mark the first time that SKC have played Minnesota with Ike Opara more than likely to be in the lineup (he was out for the US Open Cup game earlier this season). That of course means, it’s the first time Ike is back to KC since he was traded away in preseason. Mulligan please.

Sporting KC come into the match clinging to their playoff lives. Realistically, they probably can’t make it, but mathematically, they are alive and only six points out of the final spot. Sporting are in 10th place level on points with the 9th place Dynamo. SKC have gone 8-11-7 on the season (31 points) while Minnesota, who are in second place (!) have gone 12-8-6 (42 points). SKC are only six points behind Portland Timbers, who they play twice (though the Timbers have a game in hand). Even though Sporting probably can’t catch Minnesota, the points gained by beating them will go a long way into keeping SKC alive down the stretch.

Interesting Stats

  • Sporting are 6-2-2 all-time against United, though that includes games before Minnesota had joined MLS.
  • SKC are just 1-2-2 in all competitions since 2016 (MNUFC joined MLS officially in 2017).
  • KC lost 4-1 earlier this year in the US Open Cup in embarrassing fashion.

What’s changed for Minnesota since 2018?

Since this is the first league meeting in 2019, let’s look back at how Minnesota evolved their roster since 2018. First, and most notably, they added center back Ike Opara in a trade that sent Kansas City about $1 million in allocation money. On a related note, Andreu Fontas makes north of $1 million a year and is under contract through 2022 (allocation money and actual dollars aren’t the same necessarily, but I think you get the point).

Minnesota also added Designated Player, defensive midfielder Jan Gregus. In addition they added MLS veteran Ozzie Alonso to their midfield. Another big addition has been goalkeeper Vito Mannone who is on loan from Reading FC (England).

They’ve lost a lot of players but not many you’d recognize other than some aging MLS veterans. Their biggest subtraction probably came through a trade that saw them send LB/CB Francisco Calvo to the Chicago Fire.

Perhaps their biggest change, other than Opara, is getting players like Ethan Finley and Kevin Molino back from season ending injuries that made them look a lost worse in 2018 than they really were.

One more notable addition for SKC fans is former Sporting midfielder/defender Lawrence Olum. He hasn’t played much in Southern Canada Minnesota, but he did win an MLS Cup in KC so he’s worth a quick mention.

Injuries

Sporting KC

OUT - Rodney Wallace (hip injury), Adrian Zendejas (back)

QUESTIONABLE - Krisztian Nemeth (abdominal), Botond Barath (back), Gerso Fernandes (ankle)

*This story will be updated with the official injury report Thursday. Last week Cameron Duke came off the injury list so hopefully he’ll be with Swope Park Rangers soon.

MNUFC

OUT - None

QUESTIONABLE - Osvaldo Alonso (right leg injury)

How jealous are you of their utter lack of injuries?

Suspensions

Sporting KC - None (Felipe Gutierrez & Roger Espinoza suspended next yellow card)

MNUFC - None

Stats

Sporting KC

GOALS - Felipe Gutierrez (10), Johnny Russell (8), Krisztian Nemeth (7), Gianluca Busio, Yohan Croizet (3), Ilie Sanchez (2), Gerso, Benny Feilhaber, Graham Smith, Erik Hurtado (1)

ASSISTS - Johnny Russell (6), Gerso Fernandes (5), Ilie Sanchez (4), Roger Espinoza, Graham Zusi, Yohan Croizet, Kelyn Rowe, Felipe Gutierrez, Krisztian Nemeth, Benny Feilhaber (2), Nicolas Hasler, Seth Sinovic, Jimmy Medranda (1)

MNUFC

GOALS - Darwin Quintero (8), Ethan Finlay (6), Angelo Rodriguez (5), Mason Toye (4), Kevin Molino, Ike Opara, Hassani Dotson (3), Romario Ibarra, Abu Danladi (2), six with one

ASSISTS - Jan Gregus (8), Romain Metanire (6), Quintero (5), Toye, Molino, Finlay (3), Ibarra, Rodriguez (2), seven with one

Starting XI Predictions

SKC come into yet another game on short rest. This is the longest rest they’ve had in several games, but still, it’s less than ideal. Minnesota United might do them a favor and play less starters than usual since they have a US Open Cup final in Atlanta on Tuesday to prepare for (fingers crossed).

As for Sporting, Roger Espinoza pulled himself out of the last game because he gave everything he had over these last three games in eight days. Felipe Gutierrez played all but one minute in those three games. Only Ilie Sanchez comes in on a half games rest. Something has to give this week and I suspect (as I did incorrectly last week) that it’ll be Roger. Then Espinoza can spell Gutierrez if he runs out of gas. Start Benny.

In defense it appears, unless Barath is 100%, the new center back pairing is Matt Besler and Graham Smith. Barath was on the bench against SJ, so he could make his return to the starting lineup. One thing is clear, Andreu Fontas is 4th on the depth chart.

At fullback Seth Sinovic is probably up to return to the lineup. Luis Martins spelled him last game but he got beat a few times early before getting settled in. On the right it could be Zusi again or Peter Vermes could opt to start Jaylin Lindsey, who played the full 90 for the Swope Park Rangers last Friday. I’d guess Zusi, but Lindsey is getting closer and closer. Nicolas Hasler seems to have fallen out of the rotation despite Zusi not being in great form.

The forward line remains in flux. Jimmy Medranda started on the wing and played pretty good. He had an assist on the first goal and looked immensely more comfortable out wide than at CF. I can only assume PV reads this preview each week and took my advice on that one.

Ideally, Gerso will be healthy enough to play by Thursday, but since we haven’t heard anything yet, he may be more likely to come in off the bench than start. If Medranda is in the winger rotation and Gerso is healthy, then I’d loan Salloi down to Swope Park to get his confidence back. Russell almost definitely starts on the other wing.

As for center forward, Krisztian Nemeth has returned to the lineup, but only the bench so far. I stand by starting Nemeth and bringing on Erik Hurtado as a speedy option off the bench but we’ll see what happens.

Rest of the 18: Dick, Barath, Lindsey, Martins, Busio, Hurtado, Gerso

With no game for nine days after this one, it’s easy to assume that players who get little or no time on the pitch, especially the young guys, could play for Swope Park on Saturday.

Fan Starting XI

The fan vote had something weird happen this week. Three center backs were in the top four of the backline voting. Maybe that means you wanted a three back but I’m going to assume the fullback vote was just split so much (and we know PV won’t come out in a formation other than a 4-3-3). Smith edges out Barath (55.8% to 51.2%). That was a long way of saying the backline matches mine with the exception of Martins over Sinovic.

You guys are for trotting out the starters in midfield again (and to be frank, they have more than a week off so maybe there is some logic to that). That puts in Espinoza over Feilhaber. On the wings the hope of a healthy Gerso pushes Medranda out of the lineup (and Salloi got more votes than him anyways). And up top you guys stuck with Hurtado over Nemeth.

Here are the players with the most votes who aren’t starters: Barath (51.2%), Sinovic (44.2%), Hasler (39.5%), Nemeth (25.6%), Salloi (20.9%), Medranda [wing] (11.6%) and Busio (9.3%).

Prediction

Don’t forget, Sporting KC lost two of the last three games they played (and they all three happened last week). They had a fantastic second half against the San Jose Earthquakes and gutted out an important victory. But they are playing a Minnesota team that have only lost one of their last 10 games (6-1-3). Let’s not forget that SKC needed that win against the Earthquakes to level their home record to .500 (5-5-3). If they want to make the playoffs, they have to win and win a lot. That’ll be easier said than done. I’m not picking wins until Sporting can string together a streak.

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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