Update: Be sure to check out David’s match preview and tactical breakdown, including information on how to watch the game.
QUESTIONABLE - Alan Pulido (knee surgery)
#SportingKC injury report as of yesterday:— Daniel Sperry (@sperrydaniel94) March 9, 2023
Out: Kinda, Russell, Ford, Ndenbe
Shelton comes off (he looked good in training on Tuesday).
I'll have some updates on injuries and return timelines coming a bit later.
The official injury report has just one change, Khiry Shelton was removed from the report. That’s interesting because it seemed Khiry wasn’t a full participant in practice on Tuesday, but maybe that’s just precautionary.
At media day on Tuesday, Peter Vermes gave updates on all players who will be returning or arriving, even lumping in Tim Leibold, who we’ve seen as a sub the past two weeks. He vaguely said of Melia, Ndenbe, Leibold, Radoja, Pulido, Kinda, Russell and Rosero, “over the next two months you are going to see all those.”
He specifically mentioned Logan Ndenbe is the furthest off. Gadi Kinda told The Blue Testament his timeline is also two months, but he’s more optimistic. As for Radoja and Leibold, Vermes said it’s just a “fitness” thing but “they are close.” And Rosero is waiting on his P1 visa, so that could take a few weeks, but Vermes said, “he should be here soon.”
He also said a few weeks back that Pulido was almost certainly miss the first two games but he could be ready by the home opener. He sure looked ready in practice.
Starting XI Predictions
Again, let’s not go position by position, because I don’t think all of these are up for debate. Instead, let’s ask some questions.
Will Alan Pulido Play?
If you made me wager money (which I don’t), I would say yes. I don’t think he’ll start, but I can’t even entirely rule that out. He looked very good in practice and was in all the drills. The one insight was he wasn’t with the group that looked like starters, so I’m assuming he’ll come off the bench. Returning in front of the home crowd will be a heck of an applause. Subbing in gives him a chance to change the game and get that standing ovation too.
Also, I’ve been listening to the Home and Away guys talk about this new 4-4-2 defensive shape, and they are wondering if it’s designed to put Pulido next to Agada and not sub in for him. As they are skeptical, I am too. I think this roster is built to play the 4-3-3 we are very familiar with and subbing one for the other is a great spark. Maybe in rare instances when you are trailing, you put them both on. I just don’t like it as a base formation.
Is Radoja Ready?
This is the big question. I’m going to guess he still isn’t starting, and we continue to see Remi Walter in that spot. However, he seemed to be participating in all the drills at practice as well so I’d hope he’s at least on the bench and can start to get 15-25 minutes in a game. Let Remi push up the field more and join the attack.
How About Tim Leibold?
Of the others mentioned, Leibold has actually seen the field. He told Shades of Blue, Vermes wanted him to work on his fitness to catch up with the other guys. Sporting Fit and all that. He has made two cameos and I think if he’s ready to go at least 55 minutes, he should start. Ben Sweat has had some shaky defending and we know Logan Ndenbe is a bit further out with injury right now. Plus, the rumor is Leibold is being paid a bunch of money. He should be starting and building chemistry with the left side of that attack (Thommy, Salloi).
Also, reading way too much into a practice that Vermes knew was in front of the media, he was with Fontas, Voloder, Zusi and Walter in a series of drills. PV tells us not to read into it, but it’s so hard!
Felipe or Roger?
Since I’m guessing Nemanja Radoja isn’t ready to go, that probably leaves either Roger Espinoza or Felipe Hernandez starting in the midfield. I’m of two minds here. I think Roger is probably the more defensively sound midfielder and the LA Galaxy have one of the league's best attacking mids in Riqui Puig. So, playing Roger to shut down Puig makes some sense.
At the same time, it feels like Felipe has earned a shot to do this role and I really liked what he brought off the bench against Portland (less so against Colorado, but it seemed like they were playing for a point).
There is a part of me that wonders if this 4-4-2 defensive shape we are seeing is why Hernandez and Espinoza were playing a lot of d-mid in the preseason as they are being asked to sit deeper next to Remi. I’m not sure I like it, but I’ll give it more time.
Tzionis or Shelton?
Going back to the Puig discussion above, don’t rule out Shelton playing a defensive RW position and trying to mark Puig out of the game like they did with Evander in week one against the Portland Timbers. I think it’s less likely to work because Puig seemingly has the freedom to go anywhere on the pitch, which could make it harder for Shelton, versus Espinoza to mark him.
That said, I want to see the home team come out and attack the game. We joked before the season Sporting KC would end up in a lot of 4-3 wild games because they have a potent offense, but the defense is in doubt. Instead, we’ve seen a 0-1 loss and a 0-0 draw through two weeks. It’s time to open things up! It feels like a defensive liability to start both Tzionis and Hernandez, so I’ll guess just Tzionis gets the start (but I probably have it backwards or completely wrong).
The Rest of the Lineup
- No way you take Daniel Salloi, Erik Thommy, Andreu Fontas or Robert Voloder out in my opinion. Though everyone seems very high on Chris Rindov, so he’s my first CB off the bench in a pinch (until Rosero arrives).
- I think the same is true of Graham Zusi, and he pinged some great balls around the field against the Colorado Rapids, even if Zusi constantly starting is a sore subject for some.
- GK could be in some question, but John Pulskamp has played well and should keep starting in my eyes.
I’m sure these predictions will be wildly wrong, and it’ll be Shelton and Sweat, but I’m going with my heart instead of my brain (at least a little bit)!
Rest of the 20: McIntosh, Shelton, Sweat, Hernandez, Radoja, Rindov, Duke, Pierre, Pulido
It’s time for Radoja and Pulido to at least be on the bench! Maybe Tim Melia too? He seemed like he was a full participant in practice.
The first week with no surprise injuries on the list to throw off the voting. You all are still holding onto Leibold starting (like I’ve come around to), but this week the percentages got much closer (though a banged up Ndenbe got a bunch of votes — anything to not have Sweat is seems).
In the midfield you all are very divided on that third spot with Radoja edging it out. Honestly, I hope that’s right because I think it solves a lot of this team’s problems if he’s who we think he is. Also, an interesting thing happened at striker with Agada taking a dip with folks expecting Pulido to start. Agada even got a handful of votes to be on the wing. I don’t know if that feels like a fit for me. I actually think Pulido on the wing makes more sense if push comes to shove.
Here is the tally of your fan vote. Starters in italics with guys at five or so percent showing up with their tallies.
Goalkeepers: Pulskamp (94.1%), Melia (5.0%)
Defenders: Fontas (97.5%), Voloder (83.2%), Zusi (70.6%), Leibold (58.8%), Sweat (32.8%), Pierre (29.4%), Castellanos (9.2%), Ndenbe (9.2%), Rindov (5.0%)
Midfielders: Thommy (97.5%), Walter (95.8%), Radoja (37.0%), Hernandez (33.6%), Espinoza (27.7%), Duke/Tzionis (4.2%)
Wingers: Salloi (93.3%), Tzionis (42.9%), Russell (36.1%), Shelton (16.8%), Agada (7.6%), Duke (5.9%)
Strikers: Agada (81.5%), Pulido (18.5%)
The Blue Testament has affiliate partnerships. These do not influence editorial content, though The Blue Testament and SB Nation may earn commissions for products purchased via affiliate links. For more information, see our guiding principles. If you want to support the site, you can sign up for ESPN+ and we receive a small commission.