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Sporting KC v Portland Timbers: Preview, Predictions, Starting XI, Stats, Injuries

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Just six games remain for SKC to snag a playoff spot.

Sporting Kansas City v Portland Timbers: Western Conference Finals - Leg 1 Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images

Sporting KC @ Portland Timbers (#PORvSKC)

When: Saturday, September 7th, 2019 at 9:30 PM CT

Where: Providence Park

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

Revenge. It’s something Sporting Kansas City fans would like to be focused on going into the first meeting between KC and the Timbers since the teams met in the Western Conference Finals in 2018. But instead, the focus is on the fact that both teams are forced to play through an international “break.” MLS isn’t observing that break. 10 of the 24 Major League Soccer teams will play this weekend.

Sporting KC is the team far more devastated by the international call-ups as they are without six players (compared to three for Portland — one of which is injured). Of those missing players are the clubs two highest paid players, Felipe Gutierrez and Johnny Russell. The Timbers will have their stars Sebastian Blanco, Diego Valeri and Brian Fernandez.

Despite that, Sporting KC have to push through and find the way to earn a result on the road. They are currently three points behind Portland with just six games to play. On top of that, the Timbers have a game in hand (with seven to play).

Both teams find themselves below the red line looking up at a tightly contested Western Conference playoff race (minus the huge gap Los Angeles Football Club have over everyone else). Sporting KC are in 9th place (37 points). Portland are directly above them in 8th (40 points). Just four points separate 2nd place Seattle Sounders (46 points) and 7th place LA Galaxy (42 points). Conveniently, Sporting KC play in LA against the Galaxy the following weekend.

Interesting Stats

  • Since 2014, SKC have an astonishing 5-1-4 record against the Portland Timbers in league play (the playoffs are another story).
  • Sporting have held Portland scoreless in eight of 10 regular season games and the teams generally haven’t scored much overall (just 12 combined goals).
  • Sporting KC enter this game on a three-game win streak that includes two shutouts.
Look for these stats and more in the By the Numbers segment on SportingKC.com.

What’s changed for Portland since these clubs met last?

The Timbers didn’t make a lot of moves between that Western Conference showdown and this coming Saturday. Out are veterans Liam Ridgewell, Alvas Powell and former SKC man Lawrence Olum. Portland also traded David Guzman to the Columbus Crew during the primary transfer window.

The additions though, far outweigh the subtractions. Just one name may be all that matters. Right at the end of the primary transfer window Portland made a record deal to acquire Brian Fernandez from Necaxa (Mexico). He has been an instant sensation in MLS. He has scored 10 goals and added an assist. Sporting KC must shut him down on Saturday. And maybe more importantly, they must shut down the guys that get him the ball.

Injuries

Sporting KC

OUT - Rodney Wallace (hip injury)

QUESTIONABLE - Adrian Zendejas (back injury)

*This story will be updated Saturday when the official injury report comes out.

Portland

OUT - Marco Farfan (left knee injury), Jeff Attinella (right shoulder surgery), Modou Jadama (left foot injury), Larrys Mabiala (left thigh injury), Julio Cascante (left thigh injury), Cristhian Paredes (right upper leg injury), Zarek Valentin (left upper leg injury)

QUESTIONABLE - None

Suspensions

Sporting KC - Felipe Gutierrez [yellow card accumulation] (Roger Espinoza suspended next yellow card)

*Updated 9/6/19: Felipe Gutierrez has been released by Chile and can serve his suspension during this game and will be available for the Galaxy game.

Portland - None (Larrys Mabiala suspended next yellow card)

*Renzo Zambrano is suspended due to a red card but he’s on international duty so this game won’t count.

International Call-Ups

Sporting KC - Felipe Gutierrez (Chile), Johnny Russell (Scotland), Gianluca Busio (United States), Botond Barath (Hungary), Krisztian Nemeth (Hungary), Nicolas Hasler (Liechtenstein)

Portland - Andres Flores (El Salvador), Renzo Zambrano (Venezuela), Cristhian Paredes (Paraguay)

Stats

Sporting KC

GOALS - Felipe Gutierrez (10), Johnny Russell (9), Krisztian Nemeth (7), Gianluca Busio, Yohan Croizet (3), Erik Hurtado, Ilie Sanchez (2), Gerso, Benny Feilhaber, Graham Smith (1)

ASSISTS - Johnny Russell (7), Gerso Fernandes, Ilie Sanchez (5), Roger Espinoza, Graham Zusi, Yohan Croizet, Kelyn Rowe, Felipe Gutierrez, Krisztian Nemeth, Benny Feilhaber (2), Nicolas Hasler, Seth Sinovic, Graham Smith, Jimmy Medranda (1)

Portland

GOALS - Brian Fernandez (10), Diego Valeri, Jeremy Ebobisse (8), Sebastian Blanco, Cristian Paredes (4), Jorge Moreira, Marvin Loria (2), three with one

ASSISTS - Valeri (15), Blanco (10), Moreira (4), Jorge Villafana (3), Tomas Conechny, Paredes, Diego Chara (2), eight with one

Starting XI Predictions

With a minimum of seven missing players due to a combination of international call-ups and injuries combined with Yohan Croizet apparently being on his way out, there aren’t a lot of options of Sporting KC. They can thankfully still field a pretty strong lineup, but the players likely to be missed the most are Gutierrez and Russell. Those are the two players who need to be replaced in the starting lineup too.

On the wing, the majority of the minutes have gone to Daniel Salloi when Russell or Gerso were out. Salloi, as has been well documented, was the 2018 SKC Golden Boot winner and he’s still searching for his first goal of 2019. He came within inches against the Houston Dynamo. It’s likely he starts on the left wing and Gerso shuffles over to the right wing for Russell. Jimmy Medranda is a possibility on the left and if he doesn’t start, he is probably the first offensive option off the bench. Gerso hasn’t played a ton lately, so don’t be stunned if Medranda gets the start because of fitness concerns.

For Gutierrez, it seems like Benny Feilhaber will slot in and Ilie Sanchez will return to the starting lineup in his holding midfield role. The only other options, like Gedion Zelalem and recent Homegrown signing Felipe Hernandez, seem very unlikely.

I can’t foresee any other part of the lineup changing. If it ain’t broke...

Rest of the 18: Dick, Fontas, Medranda, Sinovic, Hernandez, Zelalem, Lindsey

I had trouble deciding on a bench. Fontas is probably forced to be the third CB even if Vermes doesn’t seem to want him near the field. Outside of Medranda, there are no real offensive options on the bench. New signing Felipe Hernandez may have a legit shot to get on the field. If not him, maybe Zusi pushes forward and Lindsey gets on the field since he’s consistently playing for the Swope Park Rangers. Of the bench midfielders, Zelalem has by far played the most but Medranda has taken his midfield sub minutes as of late.

Fan Starting XI

The fan vote was up in overall votes which is surprising considering there weren’t a lot of options to vote for. And the voting wasn’t even close. You guys agreed with me 100%. To show what a blowout it was the lowest vote getting starter was Salloi (80.8%). Next was Martins (88.3%). Everyone else was north of 90% of the vote.

As far as players not voted to start, the numbers were low. Medranda was the highest (16.7%). Next is Sinovic at just 10%. It wasn’t close.

Melia and Besler got 100% at their positions and Espinoza was one vote short of 100%.

Prediction

Let me get this out of the way. I’m going to predict a loss, not because I’m confident SKC will lose, but because I’m becoming weirdly superstitious. I’ve predicted losses or ties in the last three games and they are all wins.

Now let’s get to tactics. The Portland Timbers want to play on the counter. They have lots of dangerous attacking players and even more dangerous players that can make the final pass (Blanco/Valeri). Sporting KC probably need to play some ugly soccer. They need to make it physical. They need to sit a little deeper and play more directly. They’ve been playing a bit more direct the last few weeks with Hurtado at center forward. If Gerso is back in the starting lineup, his pace helps with that play style too.

Some have been calling SKC’s lineup a 4-5-1 the last few weeks (and who can tell with those lineup cards not showing a formation). Expect more of that. And it’s easy to convert to a 4-3-3 when attacking anyways.

Overall, SKC need to out Timber the Timbers. I expect lower possession numbers for SKC and I expect Roger Espinoza to tangle with Diego Chara until they’ve each picked up cards. That will mean Espinoza and Gutierrez will miss the LA Galaxy game, but it’s what I expect.

1-0 Portland Timbers 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 (or right).

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