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Sporting KC Injury Update and Starting XI Predictions Versus Austin FC

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Big updates on the injury report!

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MLS: Sporting Kansas City at Orlando City SC
Focus less on Dwyer and Nani and focus more on Zusi and Melia.
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Sporting Kansas City had a pretty tough Week 3. They’ll look to rebound as they return home for their inaugural meeting with Austin FC.

Injury Updates

OUT - Felipe Hernandez (knee)

QUESTIONABLE - Nicolas Isimat-Mirin (hamstring)

The big news is that Tim Melia and Graham Zusi are no longer on the injury report. It doesn’t mean they are healthy enough to start, but theoretically they can play. Brooks Thompson was removed last week and remains off, so it’ll be interesting to see if he starts showing up with SKC II. Isi is still the big question mark.

Starting XI Predictions

Before we get into the predictions, let me make a plea...

Watch the Sporting KC II Game Friday

Partially, because you should support the second team and see all the talent coming up the ranks. But second, it’ll have a huge bearing on who is available on Sunday. Anyone who starts for SKC II on Friday is clearly not going to play again two days later. If a desperate situation arose, they may sit the bench.

That lineup will tell us less about who starts than who is on the bench, but it’ll give some insight. And you never know, Graham Zusi or Amadou Dia could get rehab starts with the second team. Peter Vermes and Paulo Nagamura have done it before and with big players like Roger Espinoza.

At the very least, go read our recap of the game. It’s closed to the public so you can watch on ESPN+ and I will be in attendance as media giving you a second perspective from the broadcast (here is a cheap plug to follow me on Twitter).

Center Back

The middle of the defense remains the biggest question. Andreu Fontas seems to be an unquestioned starter, but he’s now had three people to the right of him: Nicolas Isimat-Mirin, Roberto Puncec and Kaveh Rad. In just three games!

If Isi is healthy, no doubt he’s the guy. But the fact that 19-year-old Kaveh Rad started over the most used CB in 2020, shows PV isn’t fully sold on Puncec (or at least not on him and Fontas being together). Rad had a strong first half but he probably wishes he could forget the second half where he was directly involved in the second and third goals from Real Salt Lake. Because of that, if Isi can’t go, I suspect Puncec gets his chance. Watch that SKC II lineup Friday night for CB loans.

Goalkeeper

If Tim Melia is healthy enough, no way he doesn’t start. The biggest question becomes do you let John Pulskamp ride the bench or send him to SKC II. I say send him on loan and let Kendall McIntosh be ready to sub in for Melia (though let’s hope that’s not needed and Tim stays healthy).

Left Back

If Amadou Dia is fit, get him into this game! I’ve been unimpressed with Luis Martins over the first few games of the season. He held Nani onside for the Orlando City equalizer in Week 2 and he had another subpar week against RSL. Dia stole his job at the end of 2020 and deserves a chance to steal it again.

It’s possible PV likes the Spanish connection between Martins and Fontas. They told me at media day they alternate between speaking Spanish to each other and English with everyone else. So there is a connection there but I’m open to Dia getting a run out.

Forwards

I won’t rehash what I wrote last week in all that detail, but I think it’s clear Johnny Russell is not good on the left in this system. He struggled and was basically invisible. He or Khiry Shelton should start on the right and the other shouldn’t be on the field. I’d start Johnny and have Khiry as the first forward off the bench with Daniel Salloi starting at LW. Obviously it’s Alan Pulido at CF.

The Midfield Trio

I’m not sure how much weight to put on Week 3’s performance. So many players were starting for the first time (Pulido, Russell, Ilie, Rad) and working back to full fitness. And it was at elevation, which is extra tough. However, it seems that the problems Ilie Sanchez is experiencing go back through the last season or two. I’ve not seen enough to know that Remi Walter is a better fit for that spot (hell, it might be Gianluca Busio that’s the best fit) but it seems worth a shot to get either Espinoza or Kinda back in the starting lineup to move Walter back (or maybe he goes to the bench).

I’m very uncertain if there is enough defensive bite in a midfield with Busio and Kinda at the top of the reverse triangle but they are two of the best players on the team and it seems they need to be on the pitch. It’s crazy to think Kinda, who is now a Designated Player, could be lowered to super-sub to create chaos, like Gerso was in the past (but in the midfield).

Right Back

Even if Graham Zusi is healthy, Jaylin Lindsey should be the starting RB (Zusi can start that midweek game next Wednesday). Maybe bring Zusi on as a sub so he can hit this stat with Besler out there on the other side:

“Sporting defender Graham Zusi is one shy of his 295th regular season appearance for Sporting, which would move him past Matt Besler and into sole possession of first place in club history.”

For this week’s lineup, I’m going with my heart a bit more than my head. It’ll probably be Ilie in there still, probably Shelton over Salloi, Martins over Dia and Puncec over Rad. If I was going fully with what I wanted, there’d be more changes (Busio to LW anyone?) but I’ll refrain.


Update 5/8/21: Obviously some of the predictions can’t be right as Dia played all 90 minutes Friday night for SKC II. Slot Martins in (as I stated above would probably happen anyways). Everything else is still in play. Even some of those bench players, who played for SKC II, could be ready to go as Harris and Duke came off early. Pulskamp will likely be the backup keeper (or starter) since McIntosh played all 90 too.

For more on the SKC II game, catch our recap.

Rest of the 20: McIntosh, Shelton, Martins, Ilie, Harris, Duke, Kinda, Puncec, Zusi

It’s quite possible some of these guys will be with SKC II and if that’s the case it throws everything into chaos.

Fan XI

The voting got a bit wonky because we didn’t even have Melia in the poll thinking he was still out. After the three goals allowed, several people were ready to pull the leash on Pulskamp (though I don’t believe he was particularly responsible for those).

Many of you agreed with me it’s time to see Dia at LB, though lots of folks are still holding out hope Isi is healthy enough to start (muscle injuries are risky, you have to be careful with them).

It’s also interesting to watch the swings in votes. Ilie didn’t climb much considering he was on the injury report until late last week. And Russell is surging, despite poor performances so far. And Salloi and Shelton flip flopped again.

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

Goalkeepers: Pulskamp (77.9%), McIntosh (22.1%)

Defenders: Lindsey (94.7%), Fontas (90.5%), Isimat-Mirin (69.5%), Dia (65.3%), Martins (35.8%), , Puncec/K. Rad (15.8%), Smith (5.3%), Zusi/Pierre (1.1%)

Midfielders: Busio (80.0%), Walter (73.7%), Kinda (61.1%), Espinoza (43.2%), Ilie (37.9%)

Wingers: Russell (96.8%), Shelton (43.2%), Salloi (41.1%), Busio (12.6%), Kinda (5.3%), Harris (1.1%)

Strikers: Pulido (98.9%), Busio/Shelton (1.1%)

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!

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