Sporting Kansas City could be playing their final game of the year. If they lose, it’s no action until February. If they win, there is enough time to get a bit of a rest before they face the winner of the Seattle Sounders and Real Salt Lake. But first, they need to worry about the Vancouver Whitecaps. The winner gets eight days off, so it’s all out on Saturday.
OUT - Felipe Hernandez (suspension), Jaylin Lindsey (hamstring)
QUESTIONABLE - None!!!
#SportingKC Injury / Availability Report:— Chad Smith (@PlayFor90) November 19, 2021
OUT - Jaylin Lindsey (hamstring), Felipe Hernandez (suspension)
QUESTIONABLE - None
None! That's music to every SKC fan's ears after that last report. #SKCvVAN #MLSCupPlayoffs
After a disastrous injury report ahead of the Decision Day clash with Real Salt Lake that saw five additions and a total of eight players out or questionable, this update is welcome news. The two weeks of rest has seen Graham Zusi, Alan Pulido, Gadi Kinda, Johnny Russell, Khiry Shelton and Ilie Sanchez all slide off the injury report. That’s huge. That’s all three Designated Players in addition to three other key players.
Now being available and off the injury report doesn’t mean they have 90 minutes in their legs, let alone 120. There is still stuff to figure out.
Starting XI Predictions
Let’s take it line by line since this is the healthiest the team has been in months.
It’s obvious that the starting forward line is typically, all other things being equal, going to consistent of Alan Pulido, Daniel Salloi and Johnny Russell. The three of them have combined for 39 goals and 19 assists in 2021 but haven’t started together since September 11th, over two months ago. Re-finding that chemistry will be the key to Kansas City making a playoff run. But they have to find it quick.
The question is, will this be the starting lineup? Khiry Shelton and Gadi Kinda have played striker in Pulido’s absence (or false 9 in Kinda’s case). Kinda is also coming off an injury and Shelton was injured but played against RSL. All that said, with the game potentially going up to 120 minutes, Pulido should start. That’s the only way to control his minutes. He can play as long as he’s capable. If he subs on, it’s less controlled and subbing him back off would be weird if the game goes into stoppage time. Hopefully SKC are up by so much, PV will actually take Pulido off if needed.
Russell is also a question mark after missing the finale, but I suspect nothing is keeping him off the field. Salloi is the team’s only left winger, let’s just hope he finds his shooting boots. He hasn’t been himself since his injury and, frankly, he should have scored against RSL.
This is the toughest position group to figure out. The only guy I’m sure is starting is Remi Walter. At what position is more up in the air. He started the last eight games of the year and really grew into the team in 2021. Outside of that, it’s tough to decipher. Ilie Sanchez probably starts at defensive midfielder, but I’m not convinced he should. Jose Mauri is another option at d-mid, but I think that’s a 2022 project (and he should definitely not play as an 8). Walter might be the best d-mid on the team right now, but I suspect he won’t get those minutes.
The last midfield spot probably should go to Gadi Kinda, but I’m not certain his hamstring has 90 (or 120) minutes in it. So it’s probably Roger Espinoza. That’s a somewhat defensive midfield, but they are capable. Then Kinda is available off the bench for a surge if needed. As is Cam Duke.
A twist would be to start Kinda and Walter, and bring them both off (or slide Walter back to d-mid) and bring on Duke and Espinoza. It won’t happen, but that sounds pretty damn impactful.
This is easy. Since everyone is healthy, it’s Luis Martins, Andreu Fontas, Nicolas Isimat-Mirin and Graham Zusi and only an injury would change this. There are no better options, no matter what you think of these four.
Rest of the 20: Pulskamp, Shelton, Kinda, Duke, Barber, Rad, Harris, Dia, Mauri
Not that PV will use the bench, but to have Kinda and Duke available for an offensive injection and Shelton ready to pound Vancouver into submission is a nice change.
You all did vote for one difference, seeing Espinoza on the bench and Kinda starting. I agree if Kinda is healthy enough to play a long stretch of the game, he probably is the starter. The midfield is much more offensive with him and Espinoza is the perfect guy to come on and inject some violence to shut down a game or energy (for a bit at least) if needed. Honestly, my ideal midfield is Kinda, Espinoza and Walter behind them, but I just don’t see it happening.
Here is your lineup and vote tallies (if a player gets at least 5% he’s listed) by category (with the starters in italics):
Goalkeepers: Melia (100%)
Defenders: Fontas/Zusi (96.4%), Martins (94.0%), Isimat-Mirin (89.2%), Ilie (14.5%)
Midfielders: Kinda (91.6%), Walter (73.5%), (38.6%), Ilie (63.9%), Espinoza (56.6%), Mauri (12.0%)
Wingers: Russell (98.8%), Salloi (97.6%)
Strikers: Pulido (75.9%), Shelton (21.7%)
The Blue Testament has affiliate partnerships. These do not influence editorial content, though The Blue Testament and SB Nation may earn commissions for products purchased via affiliate links. For more information, see our guiding principles. If you want to support the site, you can sign up for ESPN+ and we receive a small commission.