Sporting Kansas City are down to one trophy they can realistically win. It’s US Open Cup or bust for KC heading into Wednesday’s semifinal against the Sacramento Republic FC. Before we get to the injuries, check out our preview.
- How to Watch
- Injury Updates for Sacramento
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QUESTIONABLE - None
#SportingKC head coach Peter Vermes says GK Tim Melia is out after suffering a hamstring injury against #LAFC and midfielder Felipe Hernandez is good to go for the game after suffering a head laceration in that same game— Aly Trost Martin (@AlyTrostMartin) July 26, 2022
Felipe Hernandez is fine and good to go, but as expected, Tim Melia is going to miss the game. John Pulskamp had started all the prior games anyways, so it’s possible he was always destined to be between the posts.
Starting XI Predictions
I think there are two tactics Peter Vermes could go for on Wednesday, from a lineup perspective. First, play all the best players from the get-go and hope to finish the game off before any possible needed extra time. Second, start a few rotational guys, but have plans to bring on the “starters” at a set time if the game needs it.
He employed the latter tactic against FC Dallas and the Houston Dynamo in the Open Cup, and it worked by the skin of his teeth. For that reason, I imagine the “starters” get out there early and hope to put it away. The only caveat has to be if it’s not working, PV needs to trust some of this new found depth. I won’t rule out managed minutes for guys like Graham Zusi coming off an injury though. Speaking of...
Who Needs Managed Minutes?
I think there are a few obvious candidates. Zusi and Erik Thommy looked like pre-planned subs against LAFC. Zusi came off at the half and Thommy after about 60 minutes. Also Willy Agada came on late, and Vermes said he reported to the team not in quite as good of shape as Thommy (no knock on him, he was training alone versus Thommy was with Stuttgart in preseason).
In addition to those three, everyone played in 100 degree heat and five guys (Russell, Ndenbe, Walter, Fontas and Isimat-Mirin) all played 90 minutes.
This does bring up a conundrum. You definitely can’t start five guys you plan to sub. It doesn’t account for injuries, of which KC had two in the last game. I think you have to start Erik Thommy (he looked so good!) and I imagine you can’t drag Johnny Russell off the field. The question is, do you start someone line Zusi, knowing 90 is a stretch and 120 may kill him? I think you play Kayden Pierre and just check out the game state.
I’m also not personally worried about the legs of Logan Ndenbe, Remi Walter or Felipe Hernandez (though his head is of some concern). I’d start all three.
The Great Center Forward Debate
I think we all know it’s probably going to be Khiry Shelton. He started against Union Omaha and that went really well. Also, as was pointed out in our comments, he scores the fourth goal in Open Cup games (twice so far in this tournament), so if the goals are going in, that surely keeps happening.
But in all seriousness, Sacramento are much better than Omaha and will be a tougher challenge. Against LAFC, I thought the attack looked so much more dynamic, but the expected goal (xG) were awful. Here is a big reason why:
The passing network from MLS' website for #SKCvLAFC. The lines literally don't even connect to Khiry Shelton. The ball goes to him to die. The attack did look more promising from #SportingKC, until it got to him. He was actively uninvolved. pic.twitter.com/QoQPlSoxCr— Chad Smith (@PlayFor90) July 26, 2022
There are no lines connecting Khiry to anyone! That’s madness! He only had 15 touches according to FBref, which was only behind Pulskamp (38 minutes) and Willy Agada (seven minutes). Everyone else, even Marinos Tzionis who only played seven minutes too (and 10 minutes of stoppage time), had more touches. He was also third from the bottom on carries (Melia also behind him) and next to last in progressive carries.
PV simply can’t start Khiry! I’m honestly not sure what the answer is. Long-term, I think Agada starts, or at least gets a few chances to start. But I like him more as a super-sub for now (he injected so much life late in that LAFC game), especially because it seems unlikely he’s fit enough yet.
The band-aid solution right now is probably Salloi with Tzionis at LW. Hell, maybe Khiry is at LW (I don’t love it, but I like it more). If they at least rotate more, it should keep Sacramento on their toes. Or perhaps you start Agada and play him as long as he can go before subbing on Khiry (or Tzionis). I truly don’t know, but I think we all know what will happen.
The Other Spots
- We already had a good debate about who will play center back on the Shades of Blue podcast, so check that out. My verdict: Fontas and Isi.
- Give me that same midfield as last weekend: Remi, Felipe and Thommy.
Rest of the 18: McIntosh, Shelton, Sweat, Agada, Espinoza, Voloder, Zusi
In the Open Cup, you only get 18 players, as opposed to 20 in MLS. I dropped Rad and Davis from the roster (they played with SKC II last week) but it still looks so much better with the new acquisitions. There is some depth on all three lines for once.
I’m honestly surprised how few votes Graham Zusi got. I’d like to point out I believed in Kayden Pierre before the year started. There will still be growing pains, but he’s coming along!
Erik Thommy immediately rocketed into being a starter in your votes, and it’s easy to see why. And striker saw Agada jump up too. I’m open to it, depending on his fitness. I will note, there was a vote for shifting for the 4-4-2 which this table doesn’t really account for because we all know PV so well. He changed to a five back in one Open Cup game, I seriously doubt we see anything but a 4-3-3 Wednesday.
Here is the tally of your fan vote. Starters in italics and anyone over five percent is referenced here.
Goalkeepers: Pulskamp (95.5%)
Defenders: Ndenbe (89.6%), Isimat-Mirin (86.6%), Pierre (82.1%), Fontas (70.1%), Voloder (34.3%), Zusi (20.9%), Sweat (7.5%)
Midfielders: Walter (89.6%), Thommy (71.6%), Hernandez (53.7%), Espinoza (37.3%), Duke (31.3%), Rosell (14.9%)
Wingers: Russell (83.6%), Salloi (68.7%), Tzionis (28.4%), Duke (9.0%), Thommy (6.0%)
Strikers: Agada (61.2%), Shelton/Salloi (17.9%)
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