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Sporting KC Starting XI Predictions Versus the Colorado Rapids

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At least one change has to happen. Should there be more?

MLS: Minnesota United FC at Sporting Kansas City Peter Casey-USA TODAY Sports

For the first three games of 2020 Sporting Kansas City has trotted out the same lineup with one exception, Gerso Fernandes replaced Johnny Russell on Sunday. Things went really well for two games and 60 (arguably 90) minutes before it all fell apart late against Minnesota United.

The lineup will change on Friday against the Colorado Rapids because Tim Melia will be suspended for picking up a game changing red card. Beyond that, should there be more changes? Let’s take a look.

Starting XI Predictions

GOALKEEPER

First, the goalkeeper debate. There are likely two options here, but there could be a weird third. Melia is out. Richard Sanchez replaced him and gave up two goals (though we aren’t fully blaming Sanchez) in limited minutes. So limited that his Goals Against Average (GAA) per our own Mike Kuhn is just under 13 goals per game. Eek!

Sanchez is likely to start but also on the roster is rookie Homegrown goalkeeper John Pulskamp (Homegrown rights acquired from the LA Galaxy) who featured heavily for the Swope Park Rangers in 2019. I doubt he gets on the field, but the case could be made. He should at least be on the bench... unless he’s not.

See, someone tested positive for COVID-19 (coronavirus) on Sporting KC. As of this writing, it hasn’t been confirmed but there are only three options based on who was on the bench against the Loons: Pulskamp, Tyler Freeman or the recently transferred Botond Barath.

If it’s Pulskamp then Sporting need a backup keeper. It’s assumed they cannot recall Eric Dick from his loan with Phoenix Rising (USL) as he’s not been in the bubble. That would mean SKC would have the pool goalkeeper on their bench. Tim Melia famously was a pool keeper before becoming the eventual starter with SKC.

The pool keeper for the tournament appears to be Charlie Lyon, who is currently training with New York City FC. Lyon had MLS stints with the Seattle Sounders (2015-16) and Los Angeles Football Club (2018). He was the pool keeper in 2019 spending time with the Philadelphia Union and Portland Timbers 2 (USL).

WINGER

The other position that could be up for some debate is one of the winger spots opposite Khiry Shelton. Despite his own goal, Khiry played well and will almost assuredly start. The opposite wing was filled with Gerso Fernandes against Minnesota and he had his ups and downs. In the first two games it was Johnny Russell who got the start.

Russell reportedly didn’t start Sunday because he wasn’t fully fit according to Peter Vermes. Johnny didn’t get a chance to contribute against the Loons because after coming on Melia immediately got a red card and the team shape was forced to change. I personally like Gerso more off the bench scorching teams with his pace. I’ll keep incorrectly predicting Russell on the right and Shelton on the left out of hope it’ll make a difference (even though it’ll probably be flip flopped).

SQUAD ROTATION

I don’t expect it to happen. There were four days between games, but I suspect Vermes will stick with his “starters” though he almost certainly needs to be quicker to make subs. In his post-game press conference he said he pulled of Alan Pulido to “save him” despite keeping him on well into stoppage time. Let Erik Hurtado, Daniel Salloi, Gianluca Busio, Felipe Hernandez and others get on and trust that they’ll do what they are supposed to, even if they didn’t start.

I’ll say, other than my Gerso to the bench prediction and the goalkeeper swap, the lineup will remain the same. I fully expect that Vermes will play his starters for all three games in the group stage since they also count towards the regular season. And after the loss to Minnesota, advancing becomes a lot more contingent on it. We could start to see some rotation if SKC were to advance beyond.

That said, some guys like Gianluca Busio and Jaylin Lindsey should really get on the field more but I don’t see it happening.

Game Day 23: John Pulskamp, Amadou Dia, Jaylin Lindsey, Graham Smith, Winston Reid, Gianluca Busio, Felipe Hernandez, Wan Kuzain, Daniel Salloi, Erik Hurtado, Gerso Fernandes, Cameron Duke

This becomes even easier to pick barring an unforeseen injury. Barath is gone. Tyler Freeman is the only healthy, non-suspended player missing from the 23.

Fan XI

Things were a bit closer this week in the fan voting. Of course a new keeper had to be selected and you guys agreed it will be Richard Sanchez, but it wasn’t a landslide. Sanchez (68.8%) did win out though over Pulskamp (32.8%). You guys agree with my lineup otherwise. Here are the top vote getters who aren’t starters: Gerso (45.3%), Busio (25%), Lindsey (20.3%), Reid (15.6%) and Salloi (10.9%). No one else was over 10% though Felipe Hernandez and Graham Smith are inching closer at 7.8%.

What do you think? Did we get the lineup right? Is Pulskamp the player with COVID? How badly will this team miss Tim Melia? What is your ideal Starting XI? Join us in the comments to discuss.