Sporting Kansas City are set to take on FC Dallas on Saturday afternoon. Going into last week, it seemed like Sporting were nearing 100% then suddenly there were seven players on the injury report. Well, this week things are looking a lot better. Let’s look at injuries and make some predictions.
Updated on 9/19/20 with the official injury report. Espinoza was moved to OUT as was Daniel Salloi. Richard Sanchez also makes his first appearance.
QUESTIONABLE - None
The only players not mentioned by name in the press conference on Friday with Peter Vermes were Erik Hurtado, Richard Sanchez and Daniel Salloi. Hurtado was in the stands watching the game last Sunday. Daniel Salloi and Richard Sanchez weren’t. However, Salloi was on last week’s injury report and Richard wasn’t. I suspect that means Salloi has COVID, but that’s entirely speculation. Don’t go spreading rumors, I’m just putting all my thoughts in one spot.
Updated on 9/19/20: Sanchez has not missed two consecutive games. So it has to be either he, Salloi or Espinoza who have COVID. PV specifically talked about Roger being questionable, so I suspect it’s one or both of Salloi or Richard Sanchez.
As for the other players, Vermes said, “most of the guys [that are currently injured] are ready to be included for selection.” He went on to say on Sports Radio 810, “right now, every single guy on the roster is eligible now to be available for selection except right now Roger [Espinoza] for this game tomorrow” (emphasis mine). He finishes by saying Felipe Gutierrez is out for the season, so he isn’t including him.
He also said in the press conference that Espinoza was questionable (downgraded to OUT Saturday morning). That with the phrase above makes me lean towards he won’t be playing and he definitely shouldn’t start.
Starting XI Predictions
So, with all that injury news, who starts for Sporting KC?
Let’s Look at the Past
Let’s start with who started against FC Dallas when these teams met on September 2nd.
You can see the team was hurting with injuries to Pulido, Espinoza, Reid and others, plus they had a suspension for Gadi Kinda (who is one yellow card away from another suspension).
That game ended in a 1-1 draw. Not a bad result considering all the missing players (though it was a home game and the only goal allowed was a blunder).
Last weekend, Sporting won 1-0 over Minnesota United with just three changes from the above lineup against Dallas. Graham Zusi at right back. Matt Besler at left center back. And Kinda back in the midfield over Cameron Duke.
Another thing to consider is rest. Sporting KC have essentially had a full week off, with five games between days. Dallas has had two. It’s very likely they’ll sit a little deeper, maybe play some of their depth players and look to hit on the counter.
Something else to keep in mind with the injuries. Even though most of the players are “available for selection,” that doesn’t mean they are 90 minutes fit. Alan Pulido hasn’t played since August 29th against the Colorado Rapids. That’ll be three weeks between games. Vermes talked on the radio that Pulido could start, come off the bench or not play at all. I suspect we’ll see him, but don’t be surprised to see him come off the bench.
Start Khiry Shelton at center forward with Gerso Fernandes and Johnny Russell flanking him. When Pulido comes on, take off whichever of the three is having the worst game (or the most fatigued) and put the other two out on the wing. If Hurtado is back too, you could even put Pulido on the wing (who doesn’t want to see him cut in from the left?) and let Hurtado play CF. He does have two goals in just 97 minutes on the pitch this year. That’s 1.85g/90 (with a awfully skewed sample size).
If Roger Espinoza is a question mark, then at best I see him coming in off the bench (Roger is out now). Start Felipe Hernandez. He’s played well and deserves the chance to start. Gadi Kinda is the unquestioned other starting “number 8.”
The complicating factor is that Ilie Sanchez is apparently back and ready based on Vermes press conference comments. However, I think Gianluca Busio has stolen his job. He’s played really well and I think he deserves to keep starting. This is another area where you can bring on Ilie to give Busio a rest (or he can slide up in the midfield and let another midfielder rest) and work on Ilie’s fitness from a sub role.
This is the toughest of the three lines to predict.
Luis Martins made a botched play against FC Dallas last time out, allowing their only goal. He was assisted on that botch by Tim Melia and Roberto Puncec. Outside that mistake, Martins has mostly been solid. Not great, but definitely not bad. I suspect he plays over playing someone like Jaylin Lindsey out of position at left back.
Now, could Lindsey play at right back? He did last time against Dallas but I suspect PV goes with Graham Zusi. He had his best game of the season last weekend against Minnesota and while I fully support Lindsey at RB, I think on full rest we’ll see Zusi. Midweek next week is another story.
Center back seems to be anyone’s best guess. I’d be fine with Matt Besler and Roberto Puncec or Winston Reid and Graham Smith. Just keep Besler and Reid off the field at the same time (not enough pace). With Reid just becoming available from injury, I’d guess it’s Besler and someone. Puncec seems to be his primary partner, so we’ve got a lineup (because of course Melia starts in goal).
Rest of the 20: John Pulskamp, Alan Pulido, Jaylin Lindsey, Winston Reid, Graham Smith, Erik Hurtado, Cameron Duke, Ilie Sanchez, Kuzain
I’ll be interested to see if Pulskamp is on the bench again over Richard Sanchez. Sanchez wasn’t on last week’s injury report (update: he’s on this week’s) and Pulskamp being the backup would prevent him from going on loan to SKC II against St. Louis FC. I can’t help but think something is up since Sporting KC II signed their goalkeeper coach to be a player/coach.
You guys had a really unfair disadvantage in all the injury updates coming out on Friday and the voting starting on Monday. That said, literally the only differences is Pulido over Shelton at striker. However, knowing what you know now, would you vote differently? Let us know in the comments.
Here is your lineup by category (with the starters in italics):
Goalkeepers: Melia (100%)
Defenders: Besler (86.7%), Puncec (76%), Martins (72%), Zusi (68%), Lindsey (40%), Smith (25.3%), Dia (13.3%), Reid (10.7%), Fontas (4%)
Midfielders: Busio (97.3%), Kinda (93.3%), Hernandez (65.3%), Espinoza (21.3%), Duke (16%), Zusi (6.7%), Ilie/Kuzain (2.7%)
Wingers: Russell (86.7%), Gerso (68%), Shelton (40%), Salloi (8%), Busio (2.7%), Hurtado/Pulido (2.7%)
Strikers: Pulido (53.3%), Shelton (40%), Russell (4%), Hurtado (2.7%), Freeman/Salloi/Healthy Body (1.3%) — yes, someone wrote in healthy body.
[Side note: everyone got at least one vote besides the backup keepers. Even Tyler Freeman, who is almost certainly going to be with SKC II, though before that injury news there would have appeared to be an opening for him on the first team.]