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Sporting KC Injury Update and Starting XI Predictions Versus Real Salt Lake

Another home opener, but this time it’s in Utah against a heated rival.

Sporting Kansas City v Real Salt Lake Photo by Chris Gardner/Getty Images

Sporting Kansas City are looking to bounce back from a late draw against Orlando City as they hit the road and play at elevation against Real Salt Lake. Let’s get to the updates.

Injury Updates

OUT - Tim Melia (chest), Brooks Thompson (back), Felipe Hernandez (knee)

QUESTIONABLE - Nicolas Isimat-Mirin (hamstring), Graham Zusi (foot surgery)

Isi heads to the report after leaving the Orlando City game early. Zusi gets upgraded to questionable, Ilie is off the report (technically Thompson wasn’t listed but that feels like a mistake) and Hernandez is a new addition to the report.

Starting XI Predictions

Once again, not every position is in flux, so let’s focus on the positions that may be.

Center Forward

It has to be time for Alan Pulido to start, right? Gianluca Busio has frankly stepped in and done a marvelous job at a position he’s never been asked to play (sound familiar?) but teams don’t pay upwards of $10 million for Designated Players not to play. Pulido put in 45 last week, so I suspect he can start this week and push that towards 60ish minutes.

What will be interesting to see is who replaces him if and when he comes off. Busio could push forward out of the midfield (because you have to start that kid!) but I suspect Khiry Shelton may get his first CF minutes of the year. If Shelton doesn’t start, I really think that will happen. All that said, I’d love to see Wilson Harris get those minutes with his nose for goal.

Wingers

The question is really centered around if Johnny Russell can start. I suspect he’s not there yet since he keeps coming on pretty late, but you never know, it was a longer week with KC playing last Friday. If he starts, I think that pushes Shelton to the bench because I think Daniel Salloi has earned a run out at left wing after a goal and an assist. Khiry then can come on at any of the forward positions. I doubt PV risks two players that are probably not 90 minutes fit (Pulido and Russell) so I’ll say Khiry on the right and Daniel on the left with Russell off the bench as needed.

Goalkeeper

Sporting KC waived their 5th rostered goalkeeper this week, sending Parker Siegfried back to Louisville City in the USL Championship. Some looked at that as an indication Melia would be available, but Vermes confirmed that wasn’t the case. It’s simply that Kendall McIntosh is healthy (he sat the bench in Week 2) and the USL season is starting.

As for who starts, I think it’ll keep being Pulskamp. His shot stopping has looked pretty on point through two weeks if he can just work on his ability to play out of the back with his feet (or clear a ball a bit higher).

Center Back

Here is, what is for me, maybe the biggest concern. Isimat-Mirin left with an injury and you just don’t want to tempt muscle injuries. I suspect we don’t see him Saturday. That means someone needs to come into the lineup next to Andreu Fontas, who has played quite well. If you make me bet, I’d say it’ll be Roberto Puncec. He was a regular starter in 2020 (the only one at CB) but he looked shaky to my eyes when he subbed on. Hopefully a week of prep is what he needs.

I can’t see PV going to Graham Smith who seems to be last on the depth chart but one option is Kaveh Rad. He’s very young and inexperienced, but he was paired with Fontas all preseason and they did well. I don’t think it’ll happen, but maybe it should.

Left Back

Amadou Dia was removed from the injury report last week but he did not make it into the 18. That left the team with no fullbacks on the bench (though Cameron Duke can play there). It makes me question if Dia is still working his way back to fitness and wasn’t really as available as the injury report made it seem. If he is available, I think he needs a look at LB. Luis Martins has looked pretty good at times but he also looked like the worst player in a KC jersey at times. I’m liking that he doesn’t just cross everything into the box and on several occasions made quick ground passes to Salloi and Busio to open up the defense. But there is a reason Dia stole his job in late 2020. I suspect Martins plays again, but this is a battle to watch.

Midfield

Pulido starting at CF pushes Busio back to the midfield. Here is our final dilemma. If Ilie is healthy too, suddenly you have five guys who could conceivably start: Busio, Ilie Sanchez, Roger Espinoza, Remi Walter and Gadi Kinda. I hesitate to put Kinda and Busio in there together too often because they feel similar to me (though I could be very wrong on that and it wouldn’t surprise me if I was). I’m just going to go out on a limb and say Ilie starts, Walter pushes forward and Busio back. It’s crazy to leave a DP on the bench in Gadi Kinda but Busio has been better than him so far in 2021. This will also allow fresh legs off the bench since the midfielder run so much.

Rest of the 20: McIntosh, Russell, Barber, Dia, Espinoza, Harris, Duke, Kinda, Rad

There is a chance any number of these guys could feature for SKC II on Saturday night, which would mean they wouldn’t be with the team. I don’t think you need nine guys on the bench versus giving them time on the field in the second division.

Fan XI

The votes were down this week so it seems like opinions are lessening (or the shine of the new season is wearing off). Be sure to get your voice heard every Monday!

You all were more confident in the health of Isimat-Mirin and Russell than I was but did predict Espinoza would get pushed from the midfield. I’d be interested to know what you’d do with that midfield if Ilie is available after he wasn’t earlier in the week. Also surprised to see Salloi holding firm at LW after he was voted a backup the last two weeks (especially based on the social media hate for Daniel).

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

Goalkeepers: Pulskamp (96.9%), McIntosh (5.1%), Siegfried (1.0%)

Defenders: Lindsey (99.0%), Fontas (888%), Isimat-Mirin (78.6%), Martins (62.2%), Dia (38.8%), Puncec (29.6%), Smith/K. Rad (2.0%)

Midfielders: Walter (82.7%), Busio (81.6%), Kinda (74.5%), Espinoza (40.8%), Ilie (16.3%), Hernandez (3.1%), Barber (1.0%) — and someone keeps voting for Benny Feilhaber, but I’m fairly certain that’s not possible

Wingers: Russell (83.7%), Salloi (60.2%), Shelton (45.9%), Busio (7.1%), Kinda (3.1%), Cisneros/Barber (1.0%)

Strikers: Pulido (92.9%), Busio (5.1%), Shelton/Russell (2.0%), Harris (1.0%)

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). Knowing what you know now, how would you change your lineup? What is your ideal Starting XI? Let’s talk about it! There isn’t enough lineup discussion for my liking.