Sporting Kansas City and the Vancouver Whitecaps will have a rematch of the season opening 3-1 road win Sporting KC pulled off in the Great White North. The Whitecaps will have a very different lineup with all their injuries and players who didn’t travel (more on that in our match preview). But today, let’s focus on the good guys.
Starting XI Predictions
Before getting into the positional breakdown, let’s talk high level. At one point I said, I could see Peter Vermes playing lots of backups in this game. However, I don’t think that anymore. I think what he showed with his beautiful squad rotation and use of subs against Real Salt Lake is that he may have a repeatable formula to get his team deep into this tournament.
He simply made two changes to the starting lineup (not counting the return of Melia) and just subbed earlier. I expect something similar on Sunday.
As a counter thought, the game is on short rest, so maybe there should be more rotation. And Vancouver is probably one of the weakest teams left in the competition. But Vancouver are on even shorter rest. So I’ll stick to my original premise.
One more general thought before we get into it. Vermes referred to the games beyond the group stage as playing with “house money” since they no longer count for the regular season. Maybe he surprises everyone and goes with heavy squad rotation. Vancouver could be the team to rotate heavily against.
It’s Tim Melia, let’s move on.
I’ve repeatedly made the case for Jaylin Lindsey to get a start. I do think Vermes will probably stick with Graham Zusi, but this seems like the perfect opportunity to get him a rest and give Lindsey a try. Zusi’s defense has not been great throughout the tournament and I think people would be surprised what Lindsey brings to the table on offense. Plus he’s fresh! Play the kid!
I will admit I was surprised to see Matt Besler be the CB to go to the bench and Roberto Puncec to stay on. It seemed to work out well. Graham Smith showed well enough and Besler got a break. I could very well see Vermes keeping Smith in and letting Puncec get a game off with Besler returning.
The question is, where is Winston Reid? The only assumption I have is that he must not be fit yet. As we all know, Sporting Fit is a real thing and Reid has been out for the vast majority of the last two plus years.
I suspect Luis Martins still gets the start. Amadou Dia came on and gave him a break last game. Martins adds a lot to the attack when he is on. He looked really good early against Minnesota United and less so in the subsequent games. It’s not out of the question that Dia starts, but that feels like one too many changes to the defense.
Is there anyone other than Ilie Sanchez? I’m sure he’ll start but if the game gets out of hand (in either direction) it seems like a chance to see how Wan Kuzain handles this role. He’s a bit small but he plays smart passes. He’s no slower than Ilie and the team needs to see if they need to go add a veteran once this tournament is over if Kuzain can’t handle it.
Here is where it get’s complicated. Roger Espinoza is clearly PV’s favorite and he wants to start him. However, he’s showing real signs of fatigue each game and it’s clear that 33-year-old Roger can’t play as much as is being asked of him. It was progress to see him come off for Felipe Hernandez, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see Roger start again. Vermes just needs to be willing to put on Hernandez after 55 minutes or so (an entire first half and that post-halftime burst).
Gianluca Busio played well starting over Gadi Kinda and Kinda was great off the bench disrupting the game with his furious pace. I could see Vermes going back to Kinda, but he never seems as likely to bring Busio in early to spell Kinda. So I’ll say, start Busio with the plan to bring on Kinda (much like Gerso) to tear apart tired defenses.
Khiry Shelton may need a break, but I suspect he won’t get one. Logic tells me to start him and Johnny Russell again and be willing to go to the bench earlier if they are tired (or the game is out of reach).
It’s got to be Alan Pulido, right? He’s been pretty fantastic, even when teams try to focus on him. Sure he’s only scored a single goal (via penalty kick) since the tournament began, but he has three assists. He makes everyone around him better. Even though he’s in incredible shape, I think Vermes again needs to be willing to go to the bench and bring on Erik Hurtado to give Pulido a break and kill off the game. Plus Hurtado scored against his former club the Whitecaps in the season opener. Let him go get another against them. Maybe Gerso will do another crazy spin move assist.
Two subs are probably not enough rotation. I really wouldn’t mind seeing Felipe Hernandez start in the midfield, but I’m not sure Vermes is there yet with him. Though if there were ever a time, against a undermanned and tired Vancouver team might be it. And Roger can always come into the game if need. But if not, save him for the next one (assuming there is a next one).
If you make me pick a fourth, start Daniel Salloi on the left wing with Khiry back to the right. But be willing to take them both off to get Gerso and Russell on.
Game Day 23: R. Sanchez, Amadou Dia, Graham Zusi, Roberto Puncec, Winston Reid, Gadi Kinda, Felipe Hernandez, Wan Kuzain, Daniel Salloi, Erik Hurtado, Gerso Fernandes, Cameron Duke
Tyler Freeman and John Pulskamp again get left out again.
The fan vote came down for what I would call, “the standard starters.” Back to front (R-L): Melia (100%), Zusi (57.5%), Puncec (80%), Besler (87.5%), Martins (78.8%), Ilie (91.3%), Espinoza (67.5%), Kinda (87.5%), Russell (65%), Pulido (92.5%), Shelton (85%).
Some players did pick up an admirable amount of votes, so there is clearly some cry for squad rotation, just not a consensus on who it will be. Here they are, best to worst (with at least 10%): Lindsey (37.5%), Gerso (27.5%) Busio (26.3%), Hernandez (25%), Salloi (20%), Dia (17.5%), Smith (16.3%) and Reid (16.3%).
Also of note, everyone got at least one vote except the backup keepers and poor Tyler Freeman.