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US Open Cup: Sporting KC v Houston Dynamo — Preview & How to Watch

Only 16 teams remain.

MLS: Houston Dynamo at Sporting Kansas City William Purnell-USA TODAY Sports

Sporting KC vs. Houston Dynamo

WHEN: Wednesday, May 25 | 7:30 PM CT (7:30 kickoff)

WHERE: Children’s Mercy Park | Kansas City, KS

How to Watch/Stream: ESPN+ (link)

How to Listen: Sports Radio 810 WHB (English), La Grande 1340 AM (Spanish)

Only four more wins needed to earn a trophy. While things are long from over for Sporting Kansas City in the 2022 MLS regular season, having a trophy within reach is a nice motivating factor. It’s possible the come from behind win against FC Dallas could be looked at as a catalyst that changed 2022 on the whole (let’s ignore that it came before the 7-2 Portland Timbers debacle).

However, it sort of feels like the timing is just awful. Kansas City are heading into their 6th game in seven days and are incredibly banged up. Somehow Johnny Russell’s body, which is presumably held together with duct tape and chewing gum, keeps finding a way, despite a few injuries. But nine other players were missing for Sunday’s draw against the San Jose Earthquakes.

And the path doesn’t get easier. If SKC can get past Houston, they then play a midweek game between road trips to Nashville SC and the Seattle Sounders (please at least let third division Union Omaha advance). That quarterfinal match would be on June 21st or 22nd. I personally want Sporting KC to win every trophy they can, but it’s going to be a bumpy road to get there.

A Familiar Foe

As has been heavily documented, Sporting KC are playing the same teams in the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup over and over. This is their sixth meeting with the Dynamo and they have played each other in five of the last six versions of this tournament. Sporting KC are 2-2-1 all-time against Houston and the lone draw is an extra time win for KC. Plus their only meeting with Houston in the USOC at Children’s Mercy Park resulted in a win. In fact, SKC are undefeated at home since 2015 in this competition.

Injuries

SPORTING KC

OUT - Alan Pulido (knee surgery), Gadi Kinda (SEI - knee surgery), Ozzie Cisneros (hamstring)

QUESTIONABLE - Graham Zusi (leg strain), Johnny Russell (knee), Khiry Shelton (hamstring), Nikola Vujnovic (calf), Nicolas Isimat-Mirin (concussion, facial fracture)

HOUSTON

OUT - None

QUESTIONABLE - None

Starting XI

As mentioned, I think there will be lessons learned by Peter Vermes from the last US Open Cup game. Sure, Sporting got the job done, in part due to the latest regulation goal in club history (90+8’ by Tzionis). However, they were down 2-0 early in a game that looked like it was going to be a disaster. What I would anticipate is that PV sticks with the 4-3-3, but if he needs to, he can play that more defensive style the team has employed to earn four points in their last two games.

As for who fills what spots, it feels virtually impossible to know right now based on the team’s health. Nikola Vujnovic went down last week and hasn’t return. Shelton has missed two straight games. Players like Julian Vazquez have been loaned from SKC II but gotten no minutes and in the last Open Cup game Spencer Glass was loaned over and started.

I personally expect a heavy amount of rotation, but with a willingness to go to the bench for the “stars” if the game is in reach (Shelton, Salloi and Walter were all coming again against Dallas even before Niko scored). With no healthy CFs though, it’s a toss up but I plugged in Salloi since he’s well rested coming off the red card suspension and doesn’t leave for international duty (along with Tzionis) until after the weekend. However, it’s probably more likely he plays LW and Tzionis plays CF because the defensive responsibilities, while important, are lessened in that spot.

In the midfield, I don’t think they’ll mess with the Double Pivot again, but I’d be interested in Felipe Hernandez at the #6 spot. Because I’m pushing Duke to the RW, and Espinoza only played a bit over a half, I’m guessing he can go, but it feels like a bad prediction.

I again, won’t bother predicting a bench, other than I’d expect some SKC II guys (Glass, Vazquez, Collin Fernandez perhaps) to fill out this squad.

Prediction

Of course, the aforementioned schedule congestion for Sporting is something all teams are dealing with. The Dynamo are also on their 6th game jammed into a tight window and the only ‘relief’ they got was playing lower division side San Antonio FC in their last US Open Cup game.

It feels impossible to predict who will win because it is so lineup dependent. I could see Paulo Nagamura really going for it as a chance to win a trophy and he came up under Peter Vermes who often goes for it. If Sporting advance past Houston, I could see them playing more starters going forward (if they are healthy enough), but for now, that should give Houston the edge.

Plus, being pessimistic in this space is really working for the team. You are all welcome.

Houston Win 2-1