I’ve said it for weeks but you have to play the kids. I never expected an entirely youthful lineup, but I have long expected some injection of youth into the regular starting lineup. We got a taste of that with Busio starting last week, but let’s go deeper. With the playoffs fully out of reach, there is no reason to run players into the ground (though they do have the longest offseason in forever to rest up — no games at Children’s Mercy Park until March sounds horrific).
One thing that I think has to happen and I think it would be criminal if it didn’t, was that Roger Espinoza needs a rest. Ironically, he successfully navigated five games straight where he was on the edge of being suspended with another yellow card. He managed to avoid that but for me he looked tired from about the 35th minute on against Minnesota United. Rest him! He shouldn’t play three times in a week. He’s very likely coming back in 2020, so no need to play him again. He’s proved his worth.
How I would replace Espinoza varies slightly from Thad’s prediction. Instead of Medranda, I’d really like to see Felipe Hernandez get a start. I know he just signed but he’s been in the SKC system for years and has played hard for an under-performing Swope Park Rangers team all year. Put him in the midfield in Roger’s spot.
Then next to him I’m fine with either Gianluca Busio or Felipe Gutierrez (I kind of like Busio as a sub more than a starter right now as he seems to conserve energy when he starts versus he goes all-out as a sub). If it’s Busio, play Gutierrez as the #6 and have Ilie come off the bench and push Guti forward into Busio’s spot. If Ilie Sanchez starts at the #6, then Guti plays next to Hernandez. If Medranda starts instead of Hernandez, that’s fine, but I’d prefer Felipe.
In defense I expect Matt Besler back (though if Ilie isn’t starting in the midfield, he could start here to continue that experiment). I was down on Ilie playing CB when the lineup was released mid-week but he did well. I know we definitely won’t see Graham Smith as he is clearly in the dog house because one of the best players in the league (Zlatan Ibrahimovic) tore him apart.
I expect Botond Barath to start next to whoever is back there with him. Luis Martins probably starts on the left but I’d be cool with a farewell game for Sinovic who seems increasingly likely to not have his 2020 option picked up. One last game in front of the home crowd? On the right it has to e Jaylin Lindsey for my money. Zusi has two (!) more guaranteed years. Let the kid get a run out!
At forward, the options are limited. I imagine Johnny Russell definitely starts. Everything else is up in the air. I’m very unsure if Krisztian Nemeth returns in 2020 but if Vermes needs to figure that out still, he should start. I’d honestly be open to him starting on the left wing to see how that goes since he was so successful there in his first go around with SKC.
For my money, Daniel Salloi needs to be loaned to Swope Park for Monday’s game. It’s a home game so if he doesn’t play or plays very limited minutes, he could be available for that game too. If Nemeth doesn’t start on the wing (which seems likely to not happen) then I’d like to see Gerso Fernandes over Salloi. I don’t care that he needs a goal. He has forgotten how to score and SPR can help with that more than Portland.
In goal I expect to see Tim Melia. If Adrian Zendejas was healthy I’d be good with him starting but Eric Dick is too poor with his feet to play in a MLS game in my mind. Dick needs to master playing for the Rangers before he gets a MLS shot.
Rest of the 18: Dick, Ilie, Espinoza, Zusi, Medranda, Smith, Hurtado
I’m sure this is completely wrong, but I couldn’t stop myself from writing this. It actually started as a comment on our preview of this match (which is still there in it’s raw, unedited form).
(Speaking of our preview, thanks to Thad for writing it. As a sign I’m becoming suddenly old, I tweaked my back on Thursday, the day I was planning to write this. I feel a bit better now, but I didn’t want this to not come out until Sunday morning.)