Not to toot my own horn, but I nailed the Starting XI last week (with one small exception of the wings being flipped which I said could be a thing). I feel a little less confident this week, partially because of the injuries. Otherwise, it could be awfully similar. Speaking of injuries, let’s start there.
OUT - Andreu Fontas (knee surgery)
QUESTIONABLE - Felipe Gutierrez (bone bruise) [PV said he’s day-to-day in his press conference last week],
PROBABLE - Roger Espinoza (unknown)
*This story has been updated with the official injury report.
Starting XI Predictions
Let’s take it position by position since it’s still only the second game of the year, even though some of these will be quick.
Tim Melia. Enough said.
Graham Zusi didn’t cover himself in glory in Week 1. He made a great recovery run to bail out Roberto Puncec but he also got beat to setup the loan Vancouver Whitecaps goal in the opener. While he looked good going forward, he wasn’t as good as Luis Martins. If he under performs, Jaylin Lindsey deserves a shot. That won’t be this week though.
Right Center Back
Roberto Puncec wasn’t spectacular in Week 1, but he wasn’t bad. I expect no defensive changes just yet. As Winston Reid keeps getting more and more fit, expect him to push for this job if Puncec falters at all. He should get an assist on allowing the goal too as he stayed in the cut back lane where there was no attacking player instead of pressuring the attacker.
Left Center Back
Besler is the captain for a reason. He’ll keep starting.
Arguably the best defender of Week 1 was Luis Martins. He didn’t make any noticeable defensive errors and he added a lot going forward. He’ll have his hands full if Alberth Elis is healthy this week. It’ll be a real test for Martins and he’ll definitely start.
And once again, here is where the question marks start. Ilie Sanchez was fine in Week 1. The preseason not so much. If Felipe Gutierrez is healthy, he could snatch this spot. Then again, Roger Espinoza wasn’t a full participant in practice early this week. So I expect Ilie to start here and maybe Gutierrez to sub in further up the midfield is he’s ready.
Right Center Midfielder
This was Roger Espinoza’s spot, but another staffer from The Blue Testament noticed Roger wasn’t a full participant on Tuesday.
Roger Espinoza running on the side as the team trains today. #SportingKC— The Blue Testament (@BlueTestamentKC) March 3, 2020
If he can’t go, there are options. If Felipe Gutierrez is healthy, he should step right in. If he’s not (or not well enough to play 90 minutes) then Gianluca Busio seems like the logical next man up. He got in super late against Vancouver but looked good in his limited minutes.
My gut tells me Roger plays, but I wouldn’t be too surprised for a Busio start. Gutierrez still feels like a bigger question mark at this point.
Left Center Midfielder
GADI KINDA! Don’t take this man off the field. He was explosive going forward, worked hard defensively and he scored a beautiful strike on that Luis Martins cut back. Kinda is a starter! As the season goes on it’s worth remembering he played half a season with Beitar Jerusalem before coming to Kansas City. Much like Johnny Russell’s first year, that summer heat could really start being a thing. But it’s week two. Start Gadi.
And here is where things get weird. Khiry Shelton started here last week and it all worked out okay. However, I’m not sure why. Johnny Russell looked utterly lost on the left wing in the attack and Khiry is more of a defensive forward and than offensive one. I suspect he’s here covering for Graham Zusi in defense. It’s the only thing I can think of. Last week against Ali Adnan, one of the best attacking left backs in the league, that made sense. Long-term, it doesn’t. Just play Khiry on the left (or at least let them flip more often during the game).
I fear it’ll be Shelton here again but since I’m sure Peter Vermes is reading this, I’m pleading to put Johnny back in his rightful spot.
Alan Pulido. You saw that goal right? Oh, and there are 9.5 million other reasons.
It’ll be Russell, but it should be Shelton (if that’s who you want to start). Gerso Fernandes makes a great super-sub but the case can be made Gerso or Daniel Salloi would be better to start here than Russell because he was so lost on the left. I’ll guess it’s Russell since he is a DP and has earned every right to start here again.
Rest of the 18
Health will play a factor here. If Espinoza can’t start, he may still be available off the bench. Same for Gutierrez. Since I’m guessing Espinoza plays, I’ll leave Busio here. If Gutierrez can return from injury (a big if as of this writing) then someone from last week has to be pushed out of the 18. I’d guess that’s Daniel Salloi who appears to be fourth on the winger depth chart.
Something else to watch is if Jaylin Lindsey is here on the bench or with Sporting KC II. Personally, I’d put Lindsey on the bench this week with SKC II playing Sunday in KC. If he doesn’t play for the first team, he can still play for the second team Sunday. When they play on the same day in different cities, that won’t be the case and Amadou Dia could step into the backup fullback role.
At center back Botond Barath seems to be ahead of Winston Reid for now.
And Erik Hurtado did a good job coming on and killing off the game along with Gerso. Gotta think they are both here as well.
I left this graphic alone, but know I think Shelton and Russell can be flipped.
Rest of the 18: R. Sanchez, Barath, Lindsey, Busio, Hurtado, Gerso, Gutierrez
Fan Starting XI
The fan vote in Week 2 had much less variance. You guys picked the same Starting XI as me, though just barely. At right back, Zusi edged out Lindsey (50.7% to 44.4%). In the midfield it was Gutierrez just barely receiving less votes than Ilie (54.4% to 58.1%). Busio also had a strong midfield showing (27.9%). The only other move in some question was on the wing. Russell led the way with 92.9% but Shelton got just 65.2% with Gerso not too far off the pace with 31.3%.
No one else was north of 10%. The next highest vote getter was Salloi with 6.6% of the vote.