Sporting Kansas City returns home coming off a one point week over the course of two games (including an awful home loss to the Houston Dynamo). FC Dallas will come to town with two less games played than KC and they are just seven points behind. Wednesday is a good chance to create distance for KC or close the gap if you are Dallas.
Starting XI Predictions
Let’s keep with the trend of asking some questions instead of trying to nail down a discussion on every position.
What’s the status of Espinoza and Reid coming off injury?
On the road against the Colorado Rapids, Sporting KC managed to stop the flood of goals in the back of their net, but they also picked up injuries to center back Winston Reid and midfielder Roger Espinoza. They both came off in the first half. Peter Vermes says they are both “day-to-day.” So PV won’t start them for the fourth time in 13 days, right? Right!??!?!
Vermes said that Espinoza or Reid cramped early and came off to avoid further injury, neither one too serious and are "day-to-day". #SportingKC— Thad (@TheBackpost) August 31, 2020
As important as those two are, Vermes has to rotate them. They can sub them on if they are healthy (Espinoza specifically) but there is no need to risk long-term injury on two players over 30 who simply cannot start this often. I’ll say the center backs are probably Roberto Puncec and Graham Smith and Felipe Hernandez should get his second ever start in the midfield.
Edit: Just before I submitted this story to publish, Thad further confirmed Espinoza appears unavailable.
What about Ilie Sanchez?
As for Ilie, still no update.
Still no update on Ilie but Vermes still hoping to have an update in the early part of this week. #sportingkc— Thad (@TheBackpost) August 31, 2020
If Vermes is still waiting to hear from Ilie, then I can’t imagine he plays. He’ll have been out for nearly two weeks, which could mean his fitness is down a bit. If Ilie is available, he could very well play because Gianluca Busio may be needed further up the pitch to replace a suspended Kinda (more below). I suspect Busio starts here again.
Who replaces the suspended Gadi Kinda?
Kinda has been the most consistent midfielder all season. He can play more minutes than an aging Roger Espinoza and Ilie has missed several games in a row which has opened the door for Busio. However, no one has been what Kinda has this year. He’s the team’s leading goal scorer in the regular season with four goals (Alan Pulido has four in all competitions). He will be missed on Wednesday, but honestly a red card may have been his only way to get a break.
So who plays? As mentioned above, if Ilie is back, Busio can push up. After that, there are just two more midfielders on the roster aren’t already allocated to a spot: Cameron Duke and Wan Kuzain Wan Kamal. Kuzain hasn’t played in 2020 and his best hope is to be on the bench in this game. Duke hasn’t started (yet) but he has gotten on the field a little bit. If Espinoza and Ilie are out, then it’s probably Duke’s job. It’s a very young midfield, but they are playing a pretty young Dallas squad.
One alternate plan could be moving Graham Zusi back into the midfield for the first time in a very long time. His defense has left something to be desired (fatigue? tactics?) and Jaylin Lindsey is a regular starter now. He could move to right back and Luis Martins or Amadou Dia could play left back. Options!
Luis Martins is back!
This isn’t a question, but let’s discuss. You may have noticed, Martins was back in the lineup (on the bench) against the Colorado Rapids. I had been (falsely) speculating that Martins may be in the dog house (and who can blame me, Vermes has a history at LB). Well it turns out, Martins got hurt in the three weeks between the Philadelphia Union and Minnesota United games, but he had recovered, therefore was never listed on the injury report. So he’s not fit enough to be in the lineup, but he wasn’t injured enough to be on the injury report. Whoops! My apologize Luis!
It remains to be seen if he’s fit enough to start, but he’s available. Despite a new left back signing potentially looming, this is still Luis Martins’ job. And who knows, Juan Sánchez Miño may play midfielder (less likely) or left winger (very unlikely).
There seems to be a rotation at winger between Johnny Russell, Khiry Shelton and Gerso Fernandes. It’s Johnny and Khiry’s turn to start. Pulido always starts at CF, so that seems likely to continue (though PV really should consider bringing Erik Hurtado on earlier or sliding Shelton over to CF to get Pulido some rest).
The midfield of “kids” will have a very big challenge ahead of them.
Rest of the 20*: Richard Sanchez, Jaylin Lindsey, Ilie Sanchez, Matt Besler, Daniel Salloi, Erik Hurtado, Gerso, Kuzain, 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.
You guys stunningly agreed with my lineup on everything but left back (Lindsey over Martins). Here are the tallies for the starters: Melia (100%), Zusi (62.2%), Smith (83.8%), Puncec (78.4%), Lindsey (60.8%), Busio (97.3%), Hernandez (83.8%), Duke (36.5%), Russell (90.5%), Pulido (89.2%), Shelton (83.8%). The highest non-goalkeeper vote getter was Gianluca Busio... impressive.
Here are the backups above 10% of the vote, as you can see Duke got a low percentage of the midfield as it was very divided: Martins (38.7%), Dia (33.3%), Ilie (28.4%), Espinoza (24.7%), Gerso (21.1%), Besler (19.7%), Reid (18.4%) and Zusi in the midfield (11.8%).
Every single non-backup GK on the team got at least one vote (Fontas even got two).