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Sporting KC Injury Update and Starting XI Predictions Versus San Jose Earthquakes

A few injuries linger plus a new one.

MLS: San Jose Earthquakes at Sporting Kansas City
Sporting Kansas City forward Erik Hurtado (19) dribbles the ball up field against the San Jose Earthquakes during the second half at Children’s Mercy Park.
Peter G. Aiken

Sporting Kansas City have it all on the line going into Sunday, but they aren’t quite perfectly healthy just yet.

Injury Updates

The official injury report comes out Sunday, but it’s probably not getting any clearer than this. The battle all year, due to COVID-19 protocols, is that teams simply don’t have to disclose who is questionable. However, over the last two weeks Peter Vermes has been nice enough to answer some of our questions and clear it up a bit.

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

QUESTIONABLE - Alan Pulido (MCL left knee), Wilson Harris (concussion), someone with COVID?

It’s not clear when the Sporting KC player got COVID-19, but they should be at or extremely close to the end of their protocols. During that game the new additions to the injury report were Pulido, Harris and Gadi Kinda, but Amadou Dia was also unexpectedly not on the gameday roster. Dia not being listed rules him out in my mind as the whole point of the “not medically cleared” designation is to hide who has COVID.

We know the injuries for Pulido and Harris, not that they couldn’t have had COVID too, but it leads me to believe it’s Kinda. If he was in quarantine he no doubt still worked out, but not in a team setting. And not at practice. It’ll be interesting to see what, if any, impact that has. But again, this is my personal speculation. Since none of those guys were on the injury report though, it would seem whoever had COVID is available.

Starting XI Predictions

There are some players, that if they are healthy, are starting. I’m not convinced Pulido is healthy, so I’ll leave him off (same for Dia), but here are the unquestioned starters: Johnny Russell, Gadi Kinda, Winston Reid, Roberto Puncec and Jaylin Lindsey (there is no one else and he’s played well). There are other players who I’d definitely predict to play, but let’s get into the nitty gritty.

The Defensive Midfielder Debate is Over

For the last couple of months in this space I’ve been making the case that Gianluca Busio might be a better defensive midfielder than Ilie Sanchez. I still think that argument can be made but Ilie looks like a different person since returning from Spain. No doubt the personal issues he was dealing with were weighing heavy on him. Many of us have been through the loss of a loved one and it’s very challenging.

However, since returning, Ilie is a new man. Obviously a lot of that is him, but what I found striking was how he talked about on the Sporting Kansas City Show that he learned from Busio. He watched 18-year-old Gianluca Busio play his role and it’s made him better. It’s so obvious on the field and it’s something I pointed out during the Real Salt Lake game.

The great thing is this frees up Busio to play elsewhere.

Who Starts at Left Wing?

Speaking of Busio, I think he’s the team’s left winger. It’s not his best position. I think that’s somewhere in the central midfielder right now but because there are other players there, he needs to be on the field. Russell will start out right, so it just makes sense to put him on the left.

Let me tell you why. First off, none of the other left wingers (Khiry Shelton, Gerso Fernandes, Daniel Salloi) have shown a ton in that role. Khiry’s best play has come from the right, Gerso creates all day but it doesn’t always amount to much and Salloi simply hasn’t gotten on the field.

Secondly, the way the defense is playing impacts this. We can all see Busio likes to be in the middle and even at LW he is drifting centrally. That opens up space for the overlapping left back (usually Amadou Dia) to fill that wide space. What is allowing Dia to get up the field and stay up the field is Jaylin Lindsey is mostly staying home at right back. It’s essentially a three CB setup where Puncec plays in the middle, Reid to the left and Lindsey to the right. It’s not as though Lindsey always stays home, but he’s doing it a lot more and it’s working.

This whole thing has worked really well when Busio could drift centrally and sit in underneath Alan Pulido.

Do We See Alan Pulido?

Vermes is playing this close to the vest. On MLS ExtraTime he said he thinks “it’s going to be difficult” for Pulido to play. That was a week ago today. When talking to Season Ticket Members on Wednesday though he said, “[Pulido]’s still an option for the weekend.” That could be true, but I’m not buying it. The initial injury report put him out 3-4 weeks and that would have been past this game. He could have healed quicker, but he’s been nicked up a bit this year and I know everything is on the line, but I could see him just being on the bench if he’s borderline available. I think it’s more likely PV wants to keep San Jose guessing.

So if he doesn’t play, who does? In the recent past it’s been Khiry Shelton. It hasn’t really worked, but it’s been Shelton. I’d start Erik Hurtado BUT if PV goes with Shelton he just has to be willing to put Hurtado in if Pulido isn’t available. Hurtado off the bench has been a monster anyways. He has five goals in 376 minutes, three of which came as a sub. I’d start Hurtado.

Is Amadou Dia Healthy?

There has been no mention of Dia’s health but he was a surprise scratch against RSL. Reportedly that was a minor injury. If he’s healthy, he is the unquestionable starter. Luis Martins simply lost his job because Dia stole it while he was out. No reason to not start the hot hand in Dia. The one case against it is he’s been off for three weeks instead of two, but I’d still play Dia.

The Rest

That just leaves the dual #8 midfielders. It seems like it should be Kinda and Roger Espinoza, barring Kinda not being well or Busio starting over either one of them.

Rest of the 20: John Pulskamp, Andreu Fontas, Cameron Duke, Luis Martins, Khiry Shelton, Daniel Salloi, Graham Smith, Gerso Fernandes, Felipe Hernandez

Fan XI

You guys have it a bit different than me. You mostly have optimism that Pulido will play with Hurtado coming in second at striker. You also have Busio in the midfield over Espinoza which opens up LW for Gerso. All plausible. I’m not as big on Busio and Kinda being together as I like a destroyer type like Espinoza or Hernandez in there (or Gutierrez when he’s back in 2021).

Here is your lineup and full vote tallies by category (with the starters in italics):

Goalkeepers: Melia (99.2%), Sanchez (0.8%)

Defenders: Puncec (91%), Reid (88.5%), Lindsey (86.1%), Dia (84.4%), Martins (17.2%), Fontas (10.7%), Besler (9.0%), Smith (4.1%)

Midfielders: Ilie (86.1%), Kinda (82.8%), Busio (61.5%), Espinoza (59.0%), Hernandez (5.7%), Pulido (4.1%), Duke (3.3%), Kuzain (1.6%)

Wingers: Russell (93.4%), Gerso (40.2%), Shelton (36.9%), Busio (25.4%) Pulido (1.6%), Harris/Hurtado (0.8%)

Strikers: Pulido (52.5%), Hurtado (25.4%), Shelton (22.1%), Russell/Busio (1.6%), Salloi (0.8%)

What do you think? Did I get the lineup right? If you voted for something different, tell us in the comments (or go to BuildLineup.com or a similar site and show us). What is your ideal Starting XI? Let’s talk about it!