Sporting Kansas City play their penultimate game of the bizarre 2020 season on Sunday so let’s take a peek at what things may look like.
The official injury report comes out Sunday, but it’s not going to get any clearer than this sadly. There is no questionable designation, so keep in mind that’s an educated guess. Early indications are the official injury report will only include Zusi and Gutierrez. However, last week, the “early” report had Busio and Reid on it and then they disappeared on the game day report.
Despite that, neither of them were in the game day 20 (it’s not 18 this year). As has been talked about all year, because of COVID-19 no teams have to list questionable players. I have no doubt in my mind they are questionable since they weren’t even healthy enough to be on the bench Wednesday against FC Cincinnati. That said, I’ll probably be completely wrong and they’ll both start.
QUESTIONABLE - Gianluca Busio (unknown), Winston Reid (groin)
Starting XI Predictions
Let’s take a look at a few factors.
Will Busio and/or Reid Play?
With two games to go in their season and limited control over their destiny (Seattle Sounders and Portland Timbers have more games to go and more chances to extend or get out ahead), I’m not sure there is much reward in taking big risks with player health. If they aren’t 100 percent, I personally would take zero risks to ensure you have two very important players for the playoffs. Especially as condensed as the playoffs will be.
According to Peter Vermes on Tuesday, Gianluca Busio has been dealing with an injury and playing through it for several games. I’d rest them both unless it’s absolutely certain they are healthy.
Who Starts at Left Wing?
Gianluca Busio may suddenly be the preferred starter at LW (and attacking mid, and defensive midfielder — what can’t this kid do?) but I’m going to assume he’s unavailable. If he is available, I suspect this job is his. I really love the dynamic of him drifting centrally, Dia playing wide and Lindsey staying home to create a defensive back three (look for this even without Busio in the lineup).
Mid-week, Khiry Shelton started here and he continued his cold run of form. He has regressed a bit to 2018 Khiry Shelton. Or as our commenters like to say, he’s Khiry Shelton and not the monster known as Kirby Sheldon who arrived in 2020. Not that goals are everything but Khiry hasn’t scored since September 2nd, which is a lifetime ago in this compressed season. He also hasn’t had an assist since the home opener in March.
Shelton got subbed off at the half against Cincy, never a great sign, and Gerso Fernandes brought immediate life to the game. I’m always a fan of Gerso off the bench but I could see him getting a start. It probably depends greatly how practice has gone this week and media can’t get in, so we simply don’t know.
Do We See Rotation?
Sunday will be the third game in nine days. Nothing compared to playing three times in seven days like SKC just did, but still nothing to sneeze at (is this expression considered taboo in the time of coronavirus). I personally am pro-resting guys to avoid the risk of injury. PV did some rotation mid-week with Espinoza starting the game on the bench so it’s not out of the question but there is a full week off before Decision Day.
Beyond that all we know is the MLS is freezing action until the playoffs start on November 20th and ending in a mad fury by December 12th. There is an international window right after Decision Day with games starting November 11th and continuing right up until the return. Scotland (Johnny Russell) and Israel (Gadi Kinda) are both in action and actually play each other November 18th. No words on call-ups yet, though we should hear something next week.
So with such huge rest, I don’t suspect we’ll see any more rotation, but I won’t rule it out. The biggest question mark from me is if Roger Espinoza can play again since he did put on another 45 minutes after starting the past weekend and playing significant minutes. That wouldn’t technically be rotation if he doesn’t start because he didn’t start Wednesday. I’d save him and bring him on in the 2nd half as needed.
If Reid or Busio are healthy, slot them in, otherwise I expect to mostly see the “starters” outside of the changes discussed above.
Rest of the 20: John Pulskamp, Matt Besler, Cameron Duke, Erik Hurtado, Luis Martins, Roger Espinoza, Khiry Shelton, Daniel Salloi, Graham Smith
Hopefully the game is in hand and subs can come early and often. Even if it’s not, I don’t know how important points are versus health. No reason to run anyone into the ground with two games to go. Playoff seeding doesn’t seem like it will be as important as being healthy and in form.
You guys saw it slightly different than I did. You were more optimistic on a Winston Reid return (I hope he’s healthy too). Plus you guys also saw a Busio return and to the midfield over Espinoza. Not a bad choice if he’s good to go since he likes to play centrally. Everything else you all have the same.
Here is your lineup and full vote tallies by category (with the starters in italics):
Goalkeepers: Melia (100%)
Defenders: Lindsey (85.9%), Dia (80.3%), Puncec (78.9%), Reid (69.0%), Fontas (32.4%), Martins (19.7%), Besler (12.7%), Smith (11.3%)
Midfielders: Ilie (73.2%), Kinda (71.8%), Busio (67.6%), Espinoza (59.2%), Hernandez (18.3%), Duke (15.5%), Kuzain/Pulido (1.4%)
Wingers: Russell (71.8%), Gerso (60.6%), Shelton (47.9%), Salloi (11.3%), Busio (7.0%) Freeman (4.2%), Harris/Hurtado (2.8%)
Strikers: Pulido (91.5%), Hurtado (5.6%), Russell/Shelton (2.8%)