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Playoff Preview: Sporting KC v San Jose Earthquakes - Predictions, Stats, Injuries and Roster Changes

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Win or go home from here on out.

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MLS: San Jose Earthquakes at Sporting Kansas City
San Jose Earthquakes midfielder Vako Qazaishvili (11) dribbles the ball against Sporting Kansas City midfielder Graham Zusi (8) during the second half at Children’s Mercy Park.
Peter G. Aiken

Sporting KC vs San Jose Earthquakes (#SKCvSJ)

When: Sunday, November 22, 2020 at 3:00 PM CT

Where: Children’s Mercy Park

How to Watch/Stream: | FS1 | Fox Sports App | Fox Deportes
How to Listen: Sports Radio 810 WHB | La Grande 1340 AM (Spanish)

Sporting Kansas City finished off a 2020 regular season that could be described as a bit bipolar. There were times that they looked like the best team in the league. There were times that they didn’t look like a playoff team at all. And there were times when they got some gritty, ugly wins that you’d expect a good team to pull out.

Add it all up and they won the Western Conference during the regular season and earned home field advantage until at least the Conference Finals. All of that gets a bit of an asterisk though, because despite being first, they never played a single game against the second place Seattle Sounders, third place Portland Timbers, LAFC, LA Galaxy or their opponent on Sunday: the San Jose Earthquakes.

The long lens of history looks good for Sporting KC entering Sunday. They are 13-1-1 at home against San Jose stretching back to 2004. At Children’s Mercy Park they are 7-1-1 (though that one loss was an utter embarrassment). But if you take a shorter look, the first time KC faced the Matias Almeyda coached Quakes they lost by an embarrassing 4-1 scoreline and arguably their 2019 collapse started that day.

Will the man-marking Quakes find a way to upset the first seeded Kansas City club? It can’t be ruled out as anyone can win any game, especially in the weird year that is 2020. The Earthquakes do have problems though. They have the worst goal differential of any team that made the playoffs (-16) so despite the fact that they were only three goals behind SKC in goals scored (35 to 38) they let in an astounding 26 more goals (51 to 25).

San Jose’s Recent Results

  • November 8th @ Seattle Sounders - 4-1 Loss
  • November 5th vs LAFC - 3-2 Win
  • October 29th vs RSL - 2-0 Win
  • October 25th @ Vancouver Whitecaps - 2-1 Loss
  • October 19th vs Seattle - 1-1 Draw

Notice they lost both of those road games. They are just 2-7-0 away from home in 2020.

What’s Changed for San Jose Since 2019?

The San Jose Earthquakes made the fewest number of transactions of any team in Major League Soccer besides the Supporter’s Shield winning Philadelphia Union. That’s moves post-2019 through the 2020 season. There is something to be said for giving Almeyda more time to make his system work, since he’s barely gotten to change players. Here are the biggest moves.

IN: No one you’ve heard of. The biggest move was probably defender Oswaldo Alanis on loan from Chivas Guadalajara (Mexico). The 31-year-old center back has been a regular contributor with 14 starts and 1,188 minutes in 2020, but it was for one of the league’s worst defenses. Other than that they added two SuperDraft picks (Tanner Beason and Jack Skahan) and two Homegrowns (Casey Wall and Emmanuel Ochoa). That’s it.

OUT: Nothing earth shattering here either, but if you are a follower of MLS, you’ll at least recognize some names. SJ traded Anibal Godoy to Nashville SC and traded GK Andrew Tarbell to the Columbus Crew. The same Tarbell who Peter Vermes said was a once in a generation keeper talent. The team also parted was with Magnus Eriksson who was transferred to Djurgardens IF (Sweden).

Injuries*

Sporting KC

OUT - Felipe Gutierrez (knee surgery), Graham Zusi (foot surgery)

QUESTIONABLE - Alan Pulido (MCL left knee)

*This will be updated as more information becomes available. Questionable are guesses since the injury report won’t include them. We should know more by Friday’s press conference.

San Jose

OUT - Danny Hoesen (thigh injury)

QUESTIONABLE - Carlos Fierro (thigh injury), Marcos Lopez (quarantine?)

Suspensions

Sporting KC - None

San Jose - None

Stats

Sporting KC

GOALS: Johnny Russell, Alan Pulido, Gadi Kinda (6), Khiry Shelton, Erik Hurtado (5), Gerso Fernandes (3), Roger Espinoza (2), Graham Zusi, Gianluca Busio, Andreu Fontas, Winston Reid (1)

ASSISTS: Pulido (5), Russell, Kinda (4), Gerso, Busio (3), Luis Martins, Espinoza, Jaylin Lindsey (2), Roberto Puncec, Shelton, Felipe Hernandez, Zusi, Ilie Sanchez, Amadou Dia (1)

//Side note: It’s crap that Ilie didn’t get a secondary assist on the Hurtado goal against Real Salt Lake. He made the pass the set it all up. And as was corrected during the game, Shelton got credit for “Ilie’s goal” despite him knowing nothing about it and it hitting a defender before and after it hit Shelton.

San Jose

GOALS: Chris Wondolowski (7), Andy Rios (5), Cristian Espinoza, Vako (3), Carlos Fierro, Marcos Lopez, Shea Salinas, Nick Lima, Oswaldo Alanis (2), six with one (1)

ASSISTS: Espinoza (9), Tommy Thompson (4), Fierro (3), Salinas, Lopez, Nick Lima (2), eight with one (1)

Form

Sporting KC - L / D / W / W / W (10 points)

San Jose - D / L / W / W / L (7 points)

Starting XI Predictions

This will come after the press conference with Peter Vermes on Friday.

Score Predictions

The Earthquakes have been steadily getting better this season. They have won six of their last 10 (6-3-1) and clawed their way into the final playoff spot after sitting at the bottom of the West for a period earlier in the season.

Plus, it’s a single game with two weeks off in between games. Add to that there is the distinct possibility Sporting KC could be without Alan Pulido still who’s initial injury diagnosis seemed to put him on track to be back around now (or slightly later), though Vermes was calling it week-to-week. Add to that the quarantine of whoever on the team got COVID (Gadi Kinda or Wilson Harris were new additions to the injury report that week), and the team could be a bit short-handed. It would seem the roughly 18 days Vermes says COVID positive players miss should be up just in time though.

What it ultimately comes down to, no matter the layoff, the injuries, the absences or the opponent, is that good teams have to win playoff games. Especially at home. Especially when you are the one seed against the last seed.

In life, I’m an optimist. In sports, I’m a bit of a pessimist. Sports do that to us after all. They break our hearts year after year. Only one team can win it all and statistically, it almost certainly will always be a team other than your own. I’m predicting KC hold off elimination for now and await the winner of Minnesota United and the Colorado Rapids. If they have Pulido, Kinda and everyone else stays healthy, the games are just spread out enough that it could really work out.

2-1 Sporting KC Win

What do you think? Predictions in the comments are welcome. Let’s chat about it.

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