Mark my words, squad rotation will be one of the biggest keys to Sporting Kansas City’s success for the rest of the season. This team is too old and plays too hard and fast to start the same players game in and game out. The game against the Colorado Rapids will be their third in nine days. Rotation (and the continued strong use of subs) could make all the difference. Of course, they have to play good on top of that. Two goals should be enough as they put them in the last two games, but the defense must improve.
Starting XI Predictions
Let’s keep with the trend of not addressing each position and instead asking a few questions.
Gotta change the whole defense, right?
I’m guessing at least two changes will happen, but probably three. Who stays? Graham Zusi. Not because he’s been great but because his backup is Jaylin Lindsey who has clearly had a rough go of the last two games and Zusi has cardio for days and can keep playing.
So let’s look at the other three spots. First, left back. Where is Luis Martins? Not injured yet not on the bench the last two games. Hopefully someone gets to ask Peter but there are no Zoom calls setup as of now to my knowledge. Since he is missing, it seems like it’s Amadou Dia’s time for a start. If he starts, it’ll be his first for Kansas City since April 16, 2016 against the Vancouver Whitecaps (it was a 1-1 draw).
Center back feels pretty up in the air. Winston Reid surely can’t start for the third time in nine days. And even Matt Besler seems unlikely to start after being part of a defense that leaked five goals. However, I could see Besler potentially starting just to be a leader on the back line. More likely — Graham Smith and Roberto Puncec start again together. They are more athletic, better in the air and mostly had a good record in MLS is Back outside of the Philadelphia Union game, which included two counter-attack corner kick goals that are hardly on the center backs.
Will Ilie return?
We did this one Tuesday, but after Gianluca Busio got a yellow card against the Houston Dynamo, the game changed. He couldn’t go into challenges the same and it showed. He played really well before that, consistently winning balls either via tackle or interception. By the way, I don’t think that’s a yellow. Maybe a foul for leaving his feet, but he’s there first, wins the ball clean and then pulls back to try to not contact Darwin Ceren who is super late. Sure he gets him, but his studs were down. As someone put it to me, if he stays on his feet Ceren gets the yellow because he was so late.
As for Ilie Sanchez there has been no news on if he is near returning from the family issues that kept him away. If he doesn’t return, it would seem it’s Busio’s job as he’s mostly handled things well. I’m going to predict he’s back but it’s just a wild guess.
Update 4:30 PM PST: TBT’s Thad Bell confirms Ilie isn’t available Saturday. So it’s gotta be Busio, right? Kuzain is the only other option. The remainder of this article is unchanged, but I wanted to get this update in for you all.
Vermes: Should have more info on Ilie next week but he is being given all the time he needs #SportingKC— Thad (@TheBackpost) August 27, 2020
Outside of the above Ilie/Busio situation, the other two midfielders have been unchanged the last two games. There is an element of exhaustion that could take hold, but Vermes is doing an okay job by bringing on Felipe Hernandez and Cameron Duke as subs pretty early. I think if either of them start, like I advocated for on Tuesday, it should be Felipe Hernandez. Thousands of minutes in the USL Championship and Roger Espinoza isn’t getting any younger.
Gadi Kinda probably still starts and Cam Duke, or even Busio if he’s not starting, can come on in relief of him. Suddenly, with Ilie missing and Felipe Gutierrez out for the season, that midfield depth looks pretty thin. If things get really bad, Graham Zusi would probably make a better midfielder than a right back (though that entails giving Lindsey a run out at his proper position at some point — which seems reasonable). Alternatively, Sporting KC could look to someone like Homegrown Jake Davis, who’s been killing it for Sporting KC II. I know I left poor Wan Kuzain out, but he doesn’t seem to be getting another chance at this point.
Who starts at the three forward spots?
It seems Alan Pulido came off super early because the Houston game was lost and it saves him to start here. Pencil him in. Khiry Shelton got a half-day off before coming on for mop-up duty. No way he doesn’t start. The real question is, does Johnny Russell start again too? He has scored and created an own goal in his last two outings. He hasn’t been lights out, but he’s been strong. Sporting do play again the following Wednesday, so Russell probably needs to rest. Let Gerso start out left, Shelton on the right and Russell can sub on as needed. Rotation people!
Rest of the 20*: Richard Sanchez, Jaylin Lindsey, Gianluca Busio, Winston Reid, Daniel Salloi, Erik Hurtado, Johnny Russell, Cameron Duke, Roger Espinoza
*MLS has reduced game day rosters to 20 players, so no more carrying an entire team of backups and then some on the bench. Some decisions must be made.
This was all over the place, rightfully so. Let’s start with the starters, back to front, right to left: Melia (100%), Zusi (69%), Smith (79.3%), Puncec (67.2%), Martins (51.7%), Busio (77.6%), Espinoza (46.6%), Kinda (84.5%), Russell (84.5%), Pulido (91.4%), Shelton (87.9%).
The only disagreements we have is Busio still in the midfield (entirely possible if Ilie is still not back), Martins over Dia out wide left (maybe, but he seems to be in the dog house), Espinoza over Hernandez (barely) and Russell over Gerso. All within reason.
Based on the low percentages on some of these, there was clearly some disagreement and some votes to play people “out of position”. Here are the rest of the player who aren’t starters who got at least 10 percent of the vote: Dia (50%), Hernandez (43.1%), Ilie (37.9%), Reid (34.5%), Besler (24.1%), Lindsey (20.7%) and Hurtado (10.3%).