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Sporting KC Injury Update and Starting XI Predictions Versus Orlando City

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MLS: Sporting Kansas City at Orlando City SC
Look who this guy thinks is starting for Sporting KC.
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Sporting Kansas City will look to bounce back after a late loss to FC Dallas this past weekend. But there will be no rest as the games are jammed pack from here out. Orlando City is the first new opponent since Dallas (the first time they played). Weird.

Injury Updates

This story has been updated with the official injury report on 9/23/2020. That accounts for all players listed as OUT, anything else is my speculation.

OUT - Felipe Gutierrez (knee surgery), Daniel Salloi (unknown), Richard Sanchez (unknown), Luis Martins (calf), Roger Espinoza (the world’s worst cramp)

QUESTIONABLE - Winston Reid (unknown)

PROBABLE - Alan Pulido (hamstring) — PV specifically said he’d be back

*Someone on the team has COVID-19, though we’ll never officially know who.

I’ve left Reid and Espinoza questionable. Reid was supposedly better last week but didn’t make the gameday 20 (Fontas did though). Espinoza has been approaching fitness and Vermes said he’s rather wait a week too long than not long enough for all his players, so I suspect he’ll probably officially be out. The match notes already show him out, but that can change on gameday (update: it didn’t, he’s out).

The lone new addition to the list is Luis Martins, who came off in the 48th minute against FC Dallas with an injury, which appeared to be to his calf. During the presser on Tuesday, Peter Vermes said they thought they would be without Martins for a while but they got positive news and it’s not as bad as initially believed.

Starting XI Predictions

So, knowing all those injury updates, who starts for Sporting KC?

Rotate or Die

Maybe that’s a little too strong. I had that Puff Daddy/P Diddy/Sean Combs ‘Vote or Die’ slogan in my head when I wrote it (a reference a bit old for a few of you). But I do think squad rotation is important. With the remainder of the schedule released today and the games jammed close together (most of them have just four days off in between) being healthy will be nearly as important as results. Especially when eight of 12 Western Conference teams make the playoffs. Make it in, be in form and be healthy, that’d set you up for an MLS Cup run.

So let’s look at a few spots that need some rotation.

Graham Zusi is Benched... Right?

If Zusi’s name was Seth Sinovic he’d be on the bench for one month at the minimum. Maybe more. If his name was Matt Besler, that could be true too. But Zusi seems to be made of Teflon as nothing seems to stick to him in Vermes’ eyes. But giving up that late goal and costing the team at least one point isn’t the first Zusi mistake of the season and won’t be the last.

Even if he hadn’t made it, Jaylin Lindsey needs to be getting rotational starts at the bare minimum. If he plays well, he should probably start on the weekend too.

Center Backs

It wasn’t a great game from Matt Besler and Roberto Puncec. On the first Dallas goal, Puncec is further back than everyone (so maybe it’s his fault) but Besler and Martins are frozen as numerous red jerseys fly by them. At the very least, it’s poor communication. Also, Puncec misjudged several header attempts and balls continuously got past him. I’m ready for Graham Smith and Winston Reid to get a start. They are both great in the air and let’s hope they’ve been practicing together to get some chemistry. Let’s also hope Reid is as healthy as advertised.

Martins is Hurt

Since Luis Martins is out, Amadou Dia is the logical replacement. He played great in the second half, though admittedly Dallas was mostly sitting deep. I’d much rather start him than Lindsey here, plus that frees up Lindsey to play right back.

Busio is Suspended

Gianluca Busio has started and played all 90 minutes in seven consecutive games. That streak will end as he picked up a suspension due to yellow card accumulation early against Dallas. Frankly, the timing couldn’t be better. Ilie Sanchez is back and he’ll be asked to return to that spot one would assume. He better have 90 minutes in his legs because PV has no other d-mids on the roster outside of maybe Wan Kuzain who has yet to get a single MLS minute in 2020.

If Espinoza isn’t ready, I suspect we see Gadi Kinda and Felipe Hernandez in the advanced midfield spots. Cameron Duke is an option, but I’d guess he comes off the bench.

Pulido’s Return

Alan Pulido will be in the game day lineup per Vermes, but that doesn’t mean he’ll start. However, I’d start him. He can always come off for Khiry Shelton or Erik Hurtado if he doesn’t have 90 minutes in him after nearly a month off. And there is no reason to play him 90 minutes with another game in a few days (at elevation no less).

Johnny Russell is the hottest player on the team so he’ll be out there with him. As for who is on the other wing, it seems only Shelton or Gerso are available (Salloi appears to still be out — possibly with COVID). I’m a fan of Gerso coming off the bench, but he also hasn’t played as much as Shelton. Shelton or Russell will need to rotate out of the starting lineup at some point. I’d do one in this game and Shelton seems the better candidate. So, while I think Gerso probably should start for rotational/rest purposes, it seems more likely Shelton will as he’s Peter’s boy.

Rest of the 20: John Pulskamp, Gerso Fernandes, Graham Zusi, Matt Besler, Roberto Puncec, Erik Hurtado, Cameron Duke, Kuzain, Andreu Fontas

If Espinoza can at least sit on the bench, Fontas gets pushed off since there is nearly a full backline worth of defenders already available.

Fan XI

You guys (as an aggregate) made no changes at CB. Interesting as I thought the two of them looked out of sync with one another. Now maybe you all voted for different pairings and that doesn’t show up (should we change it to vote for CB pairs??). Outside of that, we are in agreeance.

Here is your lineup and full vote tallies by category (with the starters in italics):

Goalkeepers: Melia (98.4%), Pulskamp (1.6%)

Defenders: Dia (71%), Puncec (61.3%), Besler/Lindsey (58.1%), Smith (46.8%), Zusi (43.5%), Reid (32.3%), Martins (27.4%), Fontas (1.6%)

Midfielders: Kinda/Sanchez (90.3%), Hernandez (67.7%), Duke (21%), Espinoza/Zusi (11.3%), Kuzain/Busio (3.2%) — some people wrote in the suspended Busio.

Wingers: Russell (88.7%), Shelton (67.7%), Gerso (35.5%), Salloi (9.7%), Hurtado/Pulido (3.2%), Freeman (1.6%)

Strikers: Pulido (80.6%), Shelton (14.5%), Hurtado (6.5%)

[Side note: everyone got at least one vote besides Richard Sanchez.]

What do you think? Did I get the lineup right? If you voted for something different, tell us in the comments (or go to BuildLineup.com or a similar site and show us). What is your ideal Starting XI? Let’s talk about it! There isn’t enough lineup discussion for my liking.