Sporting Kansas City have had to wait 11 days between the first and second round of the playoffs. If they advance they’ll get just three days off compared to the winner of tonight’s game between the Seattle Sounders and FC Dallas getting five days off. Maybe it allows Alan Pulido to get healthy. Maybe Gadi Kinda is closer to being fully fit. Maybe close games lets the team establish a rhythm. At this point, all that matters is beating Minnesota United. Worry about Monday after the job is done on Thursday.
The official injury report comes out Thursday, but as you’ve come to know by now, questionable players are not listed on the report. I’m going to leave Pulido as questionable, but it sounds like he can and will play. Barring an injury in training or an illness, the “out” players below are accurate straight from the coaches mouth.
QUESTIONABLE - Alan Pulido (MCL left knee)
Vermes addressed why Pulido was "available" against SJ but didn't play saying he was being cautious but this game is "probably different because [Pulido] has progressed incredibly well." #SportingKC #SKCvMIN https://t.co/SMl95h7d6U— Chad Smith (@PlayFor90) December 2, 2020
Starting XI Predictions
There are a few players with zero question marks for me, including: Johnny Russell, Roger Espinoza, Ilie Sanchez, Tim Melia and the entire backline (Amadou Dia, Winston Reid, Roberto Puncec and Jaylin Lindsey). There have been some shaky moments (Cristian Espinoza absolute worked the right side of the defense) but I don’t see Vermes changing anything listed above, so let’s move on.
Pulido is “Available” but will he Start?
Despite how much Pulido has “progressed,” it doesn’t mean he’ll start. We all want to see Alan Pulido on the field. He’s a difference maker. He’s the most expensive player in team history. He’s one of the most expensive players in MLS history. It simply doesn’t mean he’s fit enough to play the whole game.
I think the best idea, if he has even just 50-60 minutes in his legs, is to start him. He can play (and hopefully help build a healthy lead) and then come off when he’s too tired or the team indicates it’s the right time to make that move. If he were to come on as a sub and the game were to go to extra time for a minimum of 30 more minutes, that’s a lot to ask and you don’t want to sub out your sub if they can’t go anymore (keep in mind, there is a sixth sub in extra time if it comes to that).
It could go the opposite and he could come on late with a plan to potentially play through extra time (and subsequently take a penalty kick if it came to that) but the game could also be out of hand by then. Put Alan on to start and go win it.
A Return to Health?
In addition to getting Pulido back (or so it seems), Sporting KC got back Gadi Kinda against the San Jose Earthquakes. He didn’t appear until the 98th minute of extra time, likely because he wasn’t really fit after missing some time. 11 days between games also likely benefits Kinda getting that much more fit. The question becomes, is he fit enough to start? I would hope that he can start because that opens up so many options if he can go. Primarily, it opens up Gianluca Busio to play somewhere else on the pitch.
Who Starts at Left Wing?
Gerso Fernandes played pretty damn well out wide against San Jose. At times he was the best forward on the pitch and I’d argue it may have been a mistake to take him off and leave Khiry Shelton on. You could even see live on the broadcast when the announcers spoke with Peter Vermes on the sideline and he was torn on what to do as Gerso was playing well.
Despite all that, especially if Pulido and Gadi are good to go, I really like the idea of Gianluca Busio at left wing. As I’ve spoke on before, he can drift centrally and allow Amadou Dia to fill the space out wide. Busio can then combine and play underneath Pulido with Kinda making charging runs out of the midfield.
Plus, it’s harder to plan for because KC have only ran this lineup out a couple times. Maybe, just maybe, it’ll catch Minnesota off guard.
Then when the game calls for a sub, Gerso can come on at LW and if Gadi isn’t fit enough to go the whole game Busio can take his spot in the midfield (or do whatever the form of the players says is right). Busio never seems to get tired and he’s such a weapon in that he can play so many spots. I really don’t think you can go wrong if it’s Gerso’s energy off the bench, or if Busio starts in the middle and it’s Kinda’s providing the spark.
Rest of the 20: John Pulskamp, Andreu Fontas, Cameron Duke, Luis Martins, Khiry Shelton, Daniel Salloi, Erik Hurtado, Gerso Fernandes, Felipe Hernandez
Let’s hope Erik Hurtado has gotten more rest too. When he came on against San Jose he had nothing in the tank. It didn’t cost SKC but it could. Minnesota have a much sharper offense and as we all know, defense starts up top. It makes me think if Khiry Shelton isn’t starting, he’ll be the first option at CF off the bench (even if he’s much better at RW).
You guys have finally come around on Espinoza being a starter. There is no doubt in my mind but he’s come in fourth in the midfield the last few votes. The Busio vote is so split, he doesn’t technically start because it’s divided up so much between the midfield and left wing. Obviously if you get a combined 86.3 percent of the vote you should start. Where do you like him best? Tell us in the comments and defend your position.
The other very divided part of the vote is left wing. Shelton edges Gerso by a single vote and PV does love starting Khiry so it’s definitely possible.
Here is your lineup and full vote tallies by category (with the starters in italics):
Goalkeepers: Melia (100%)
Defenders: Reid (94.0%), Puncec (91.5%), Lindsey (88.9%), Dia (85.5%), Fontas (10.3%), Martins (7.7%), Besler/Smith (6.0%)
Midfielders: Ilie (87.2%), Espinoza (76.1), Kinda (63.2%), Busio (59.8%), Hernandez/Duke (4.3%), Kuzain (3.4%), Pulido (1.7%)
Wingers: Russell (95.7%), Shelton (38.5%), Gerso (37.6%), Busio (25.6%) Pulido (3.4%), Salloi/Hurtado (0.9%)
Strikers: Pulido (77.8%), Shelton (16.2%), Hurtado (6.0%), Busio (0.9%)