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Sporting KC Injury Update and Starting XI Predictions Versus Columbus Crew

A new and unfortunate addition to the injury report. What’s new?!

MLS: Columbus Crew at Sporting KC Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

Sporting Kansas City can’t seem to catch a break on this injury stuff. They will potentially be down their third and final Designated Player on Saturday as Johnny Russell popped onto the report unexpectedly. That’s probably welcome news to Columbus Crew fans who have watched their team drop three straight and will be looking to rebound in Children’s Mercy Park. Less so for the SKC faithful.

Injury/Availability Updates

OUT - Alan Pulido (knee surgery), Gadi Kinda (knee surgery)

QUESTIONABLE - Uri Rosell (thigh), Johnny Russell (calf)

Starting XI Predictions

It’d be nice to have a week where injuries weren’t the driver of this conversation, but let’s get that out of the way.

Who Replaces Russell if he Can’t Go?

Hopefully the Russell injury is nothing. The reports are now based on the Wednesday before the game, so that can sometimes be all cleared up by the weekend, hence the sudden recovery of many players, or conversely a lot of questionable guys ending up being out. Let’s hope it’s the former.

If Russell can’t play (or at least start), the backup right winger is probably Khiry Shelton. He’s been ineffective at striker (as I made the case earlier this week), so maybe he’d perform better out wide. The pressure to score wouldn’t be there as much and some one like Andreu Fontas (if he starts, more on that in a moment) could ping long balls into that space ahead of him to let him run at defenders, something he’s pretty good at.

Either Way, I Can’t See Shelton at Striker Again

He’s not scoring (nothing new). He’s not assisting. He’s not creating space that others are taking advantage of. He’s getting fouled and not getting calls. He’s losing possession, often when dropping deeper into the midfield, which is more damaging. And he’s had some inexcusable defensive lapses recently.

Maybe Peter Vermes thinks he has no other options so he keeps playing Khiry. But I think there are plenty of options, which were laid out previously. Let’s just hit the bulleted list:

  • Nikola Vujnovic starts (he’s had no time starting with Russell and Salloi... and still may not)
  • SKC go with a false nine (I’m down for Tzionis here)
  • Give Salloi a shot and move Tzionis to the LW

I’m fine if Shelton has to play RW, but I don’t want him starting at CF. Go with any of these options and definitely find a spot for Marinos Tzionis in this lineup.

Does Sporting KC Stick with the Double Pivot?

Speaking of Tzionis, he started last week at what was basically the #10 spot. It’s not a spot that usually exists in Sporting KC’s formation, but they flipped the triangle in the midfield and played two defensive midfielders. Honestly, I thought it was pretty effective. If not for a world class goal by Ismael Tajouri-Shradi, they probably get a draw (that third goal will be address in a second, but the game state had changed).

If Uri Rosell is better, I think they go back to the single pivot. You get Remi Walter further up the pitch and there are plenty of guys that can play next to him (Felipe Hernandez, Cam Duke, Roger Espinoza, etc.). Then again, the double pivot worked pretty well, but it does create less offense in my opinion because at times both 8s are crashing the box with the inverted triangle. If Tzionis is needed in the forward line, I’d guess it’s Walter back at the 6 barring a healthy Rosell. Cam Duke can seemingly play that #10 spot as well, but Tzionis looked better there.

Should Fontas Head to the Bench?

Andreu Fontas is a likable guy. But he hasn’t quite been as good as he was in 2021. Well, almost no one on Sporting KC has, so there is that. At the end of the game against LAFC, with the team in striking distance, he made a turnover that led to the third goal. To be fair, Felipe Hernandez made a similar turnover minutes earlier that went unpunished. To double ding Fontas, after his pass was intercepted he was “chasing ghosts” with an over-aggressive play that meant two errors within seconds and led to that goal. Shortly after, he was sent to the bench for Robert Voloder. Probably not a coincidence.

It’ll be interesting to see if Voloder is given a chance to start. They spent significantly on him, they might as well see what they have at some point.

I will stupidly pick the same lineup again but Russell will probably be out with our luck, PV has shown no inclination he’ll play Tzionis at the false 9 and Rosell is probably not ready. But I’m stubborn. I like this idea a lot.

Rest of the 20: Pulskamp, Voloder, Espinoza, Ford, Shelton, Vujnovic, Sweat, [empty], [empty]

I’ll keep leaving some empty bench spots for SKC II to steal some players. They’ve unfortunately lost two straight, so maybe they are stealing the wrong ones (or playing them in the wrong spots). If Voloder isn’t going to get more minutes with SKC though, I want him with the II’s getting on the field. SKC II need a CB anyways with Aljaz Dzankic done for the year.

Fan XI

Those are last week’s totals. By the time I realized this week we didn’t have a Predict the Lineup post, it was way too late. Sorry!

Here are the tallies of the votes. We’ll stick to just who got at least 5% of the vote in the results. Starters in italics.

Goalkeepers: Melia (88.6%), Pulskamp (9.1%)

Defenders: Ndenbe (100%), Zusi (90.9%), Isimat-Mirin (88.6%), Fontas (79.5%), Ford (18.2%), Voloder (11.4%), Duke (6.8%)

Midfielders: Walter (93.2%), Hernandez (81.8%), Tzionis (43.2%), Duke (27.3%), Espinoza (25.0%), Rosell (20.5%), Davis (6.8%)

Wingers: Russell (93.2%), Salloi (68.2%), Tzionis (31.8%)

Strikers: Vujnovic (65.9%), Salloi (20.5%), Shelton (13.6%)

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