Sporting Kansas City are heading into the first game in quite a while where they should be fully rested. Add to that a thin injury report that includes Felipe Gutierrez, who missed the whole year, and Graham Zusi, who missed the last few games, and suddenly it looks like SKC could put out a nearly ideal starting 11.
Here is my unofficial injury report. I suspect this will be pretty accurate based on what we’ve heard from Peter Vermes this week and we won’t hear if guys are questionable anyways. The official report comes out Saturday.
QUESTIONABLE - None
Starting XI Predictions
So, what is the ideal 11 players — minus Gutierrez and Zusi — that Sporting could put out Saturday?
Ilie or Busio at Holding Mid?
We haven’t really gotten the answer to who Peter sees as his starting holding midfielder. The schedule has been so congested that Gianluca Busio has needed to lineup in multiple spots, including holding midfielder. When he hasn’t been the #6, Ilie Sanchez has lined up there (which has been most of the time).
I think the case can be made that Gadi Kinda and Roger Espinoza will start in the dual #8 spots. That would seem to indicate there will finally need to be a decision on who is the preferred #6. For me it’s Busio all day. Ilie being out of gas or giving up late in the Chicago Fire game leaves a bad taste, but I’ve been on the “Busio is the #6” bandwagon for a bit now.
Now, I could absolute see a midfield of Busio, Kinda and Ilie with Espinoza coming on in relief too. But it seems to me Espinoza still has a special place in this lineup, even if he can’t start back-to-back games just days apart. I expect him to start Saturday. For sure Busio will start though, whether it’s at the #6 or not.
Is the First Choice Backline Set?
I think it is and it is Jaylin Lindsey, Winston Reid, Roberto Puncec and Amadou Dia. Let’s break it down.
Lindsey is in because of Zusi’s injury. I think he probably deserves playing time regardless, but if it wasn’t for Zusi being out for the year, he’d surely start here. Winston Reid has been a revelation in defense. He dominates the air, he steps forward at the right time, he positions himself nearly perfect and it doesn’t hurt that he’s a threat in the box on set pieces.
Roberto Puncec has started 10 straight games at CB too (despite the clear need for a break in there). I think that shows he’s clearly a preferred player even if he still has some shaky moments.
And finally Amadou Dia has played lights out at LB. He got his chance because Luis Martins was hurt but in my opinion, he stole the job in that time. He’s a better defender than Martins and honestly I’ve liked him more going forward too. Of all the players listed, I could see Dia going back to the bench, but I disagree if that’s the case.
My Only Forward Question is around LW
It’s clear Alan Pulido will start with Johnny Russell to his right. But who starts on the left? I’ve long advocated for someone starting and Gerso Fernandes coming on as a super sub. I think that’s probably still the best option going forward, even though I think Khiry Shelton (my pick to start) has been in a slump lately.
The case could be made Gerso should start. That said, the last sighting of Gerso and Daniel Salloi saw them pulled after 45 minutes of lackluster soccer against FC Dallas and instead of playing them or even subbing them on against Chicago, PV played Busio out of position at LW. That seems like a bad sign, but I could see one or both of them getting on as subs depending on how the game against Colorado goes. Gotta save everyone’s legs over these last four games as the playoffs loom just over the horizon.
Rest of the 20: John Pulskamp, Matt Besler, Cameron Duke, Erik Hurtado, Luis Martins, Felipe Hernandez, Gerso Fernandes, Ilie Sanchez, Daniel Salloi
Choosing a bench is actually more challenging. I dropped it down to one center back but could we two with someone like Duke left out? I think Duke’s versatility to be able to play RB, CM and wing helps him stay in the game day 20.
You guys mostly agreed with me but went slightly the other direction and had Espinoza on the bench, Ilie in at d-mid and Busio in a more advanced midfield role. Everything else, you guys see it like me.
Here is your lineup and full vote tallies by category (with the starters in italics):
Goalkeepers: Melia (100%)* [someone voted for two GKs as Melia had 100%, but I threw that out]
Defenders: Lindsey (90.2%), Reid (88.5%), Dia (78.7%), Puncec (68.9%), Smith (27.9%), Martins (21.3%), Fontas (9.8%), Zusi (6.6%) Besler (4.9%)
Midfielders: Kinda (86.9%), Busio (82%), Ilie (67.2%), Espinoza (52.5%), Duke (8.2%), Hernandez (6.6%), Kuzain (3.3%)
Wingers: Russell (88.5%), Shelton (54.1%), Gerso (49.2%), Salloi (8.2%), Busio (1.6%)
Strikers: Pulido (77%), Hurtado (18%), Shelton (6.6%)