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Playoff Preview: Sporting KC v Minnesota United - Predictions, Stats, Injuries and Roster Changes

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MLS: Minnesota United FC at Sporting Kansas City
Minnesota United defender Chase Gasper (77) heads the ball against pressure from Sporting Kansas City forward Johnny Russell (7) during the second half at Children’s Mercy Park.
Peter Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

Sporting KC vs Minnesota United (#SKCvMIN)

When: Thursday, December 3, 2020 at 7:30 PM CT

This story has been updated to reflect the moving back of the SKC/MIN game by a day.

Where: Children’s Mercy Park

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

10 days ago Sporting Kansas City nearly gave us all heart attacks as it took a legendary penalty kick shootout performance by Tim Melia to push KC to the semi-finals. Minnesota United didn’t have nearly any trouble with their 3-0 thrashing of the Colorado Rapids.

Both of those games were November 22nd and inexplicably there is a 10 11 (the game moved) day gap between rounds (for these teams at least). Whoever advances will only get 3 days off until they face the winner of FC Dallas and the Seattle Sounders (who will get 4 5 days off) on December 6th. Who makes this schedule? Nashville SC and the New England Revolution get three less days off than their respective opponents Orlando City and Columbus Crew. They played Tuesday and then turn it around on Sunday. Get your act together MLS.

The one positive for SKC is that it’s an extra few days for Alan Pulido to get healthy. There has been no update from Sporting KC or Peter Vermes, but we should hear something in the press conference on Monday. His Instagram story from Sunday (the day this was originally written) shows him doing what appears to be rehab on his knee.

With or without Pulido, Sporting KC are in for quite the challenge. It’s easy to look back at the past and say KC have an advantage. They’ve never lost to Minnesota at Children’s Mercy Park (6-0-0). Sporting thoroughly controlled the previous three meetings this year (despite a late loss during MLS is Back after a Melia red card). However, as our own Robert Rusert points out in his fantastic analysis, that was before Emanuel Reynoso.

Reynoso was a late sub in the final meeting between these clubs in their final meeting. Since then he’s found his rhythm. He played a mere 826 minutes in MLS this year but put up seven assists, just three shy of leading MLS despite joining so late in the year. That also leaves out the three assists he added against the Rapids in the first round of the playoffs.

Throw out the history, this is going to be a dog fight.

Minnesota’s Recent Results

  • November 22nd vs Colorado Rapids - 3-0 Win
  • November 8th vs FC Dallas - 3-0 Win
  • November 5th vs Chicago Fire - 2-2 Draw
  • October 29th vs Colorado - 2-1 Win
  • October 24th @ FC Cincinnati - 1-0 Win

Minnesota are undefeated in their last nine including wins in four of their last five. You have to go back to a road game against the Columbus Crew on September 23rd — two months ago — to find their last loss. However, it should be noted, just two of those seven games were on the road where Minnesota are a mediocre 3-4-2 in 2020.

You also have to go back to September 23rd for Sporting’s last legit loss (their October 15th “loss” to FC Dallas was marred by a horrific call from officials). Even counting the Dallas game KC are 6-1-1 in their last eight.

Both of these teams are hot.

What’s Changed for Minnesota Since these Clubs Last Met?

The Loons have made quite a few moves since last playing Sporting Kansas City on September 14th — multiple of which include former SKC players. First, they traded for former Sporting backup goalkeeper Adrian Zendejas in a deal with Nashville when their goalkeeper ranks were ravaged with injuries and missing players. He hasn’t made an appearance.

In potentially a bigger move, Minnesota traded for striker Kei Kamara. Kamara has been a regular starter getting in for six starts (seven appearances) and 458 minutes and adding a goal and an assist. However, Robin Lod got the start against Colorado and looked quite good in that role.

The other three additions are from USL Championship club Reno 1868 FC: forward Foster Langsdorf, midfielder Kevin Partida and defender Sam Gleadle. Only Langsdorf has gotten into a game and for a mere 10 minutes.

For all the moves prior to this date, including a look at Reynoso, check out our previous preview(s).

Injuries*

Sporting KC

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

QUESTIONABLE - Alan Pulido (MCL left knee)

*This has been updated with the confirmation of Besler’s concussion and an update on Pulido.

Minnesota

OUT - Tyler Miller (hip surgery), Ike Opara (not medically cleared), Luis Amarilla (ankle), Sam Gleadle (not medically cleared)

QUESTIONABLE - Hassani Dotson (ankle)

Suspensions

Sporting KC - None

Minnesota - None

Stats (including playoffs)

Sporting KC

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

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

Minnesota

GOALS: Kevin Molino (11), Robin Lod (9), Ethan Finlay (4), Luis Amarilla, Ike Opara (2), Nine with one (1)

ASSISTS: Emanuel Reynoso (10), Jan Gregus (7), Lod (5), Molino, Romain Metanire (4), Raheem Edwards (3), Finlay (2), Five with one (1)

Form

Sporting KC - D / W / W / W / W

Minnesota - W / W / D / W / W

Starting XI Predictions

After Peter’s press conference we have a better idea. Take a look at those predictions.

Score Predictions

Going into the games last round of the playoffs, I thought it’d be better for Sporting KC to play Minnesota United. They’ve outplayed them all year, they own them at CMP and they just seem like the better team. Now I’m quite nervous.

With Robin Lod as a false nine and Emanuel Reynoso pulling the strings, it seems like just the type of offense that will give Sporting KC’s defense fits. Runners all over the place and decisively slipped through balls finding those runners sounds like a nightmare for KC. It sounds an awful lot like what the Houston Dynamo did to SKC twice this year. Reynoso is a better Darwin Quintero. And he’s in the middle of the field (or wherever he damn well pleases) so he’s harder to keep track of.

Sporting KC are a better team than the team that lost twice to a similar style of attack against Houston. But Minnesota are clicking on all cylinders. It’s pretty clear Sporting aren’t going to shut anyone out. Perhaps they were a bit unlucky with some of the odd deflections that went into the net against the San Jose Earthquakes, but it’s not like Melia didn’t make some huge saves in other situations in that game where goals could have easily gotten in otherwise.

I’m going to make a conditional prediction. If Alan Pulido is back and starting, Sporting stand a much better chance. Not that they can’t win without Pulido, they’ve shown they very much can, but they are just not the same with Khiry Shelton or Erik Hurtado at center forward (plus what was up with Hurtado in that last game).

If it gets to penalty kicks, who doesn’t like SKC’s chances? Of course we’d all like the team to finish it earlier than that. Let’s just hope it’s not Minnesota who does the finishing on Wednesday Thursday.

With Pulido 3-2 Sporting KC Win

Without Pulido 2-3 Sporting KC Loss

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

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Update 11/30/2020: This story originally was written on 11/29/20 before the game was moved back a day. We tried to fix the inconsistencies around timing.