Sporting Kansas City will potentially be without their striker on Saturday in a pivotal home game against the Houston Dynamo. Alan Pulido, who just signed a new three-year contract with the team, popped up as questionable on the injury report with a quad contusion.
More on the injuries in a moment, but first, it’s worth looking at how Sporting KC perform on short rest as they enter their third game in an eight-day span. It’s not good (actually, it’s pretty terrible). Here are all their short rest games in 2023:
- April 25th vs. Tulsa Athletic – 3-0 Win*
- April 29th vs. CF Montreal – 0-2 Loss
- May 10th @ Houston Dynamo – 0-1 Loss
- May 13th vs. Minnesota United – 3-0 Win
- May 17th @ LAFC – 1-1 Draw
- May 20th @ St. Louis City – 0-4 Loss
- May 31st vs FC Dallas – 2-1 Win
- June 3rd @ Vancouver Whitecaps – 1-1 Draw
- June 21st @ LA Galaxy – 1-1 Draw
- June 24th vs. Chicago Fire – 0-1 Loss
- July 12th vs. Real Salt Lake – 2-2 Draw
- July 15th @ Austin FC – 1-2 Loss
- August 4th vs. Toluca – 1-4 Loss
- Sept. 20th vs. Nashville SC – 0-3 Loss
*While it’s listed, beating a fourth division team of mostly amateur players shouldn’t count, so I’m not putting it in the totals.
Outside of the game against the UPSL opponent, it’s surprising to see the 10-game stretch at the start of the season had zero short rest games. Since then, Sporting KC are 2-7-4 on short rest (defined as four days or less between games). The two wins were both at home, but they hardly have a shinning home record. They went 2-4-1 at home (including losses to Montreal and Chicago which were near the bottom of the table at the time).
I’ve said all year (often on my podcast, For the Glory KC), on full rest this team is pretty good. Obviously, the 10-game stretch at the beginning of the season is abysmal (0-7-3) and skews any numbers. But since that point, taking out the short rest games, Sporting KC are 8-1-1, and the one loss is the Leagues Cup game where they were up 2-0 on Supporters Shield leading FC Cincinati before a Pulido red card.
It’s kind of remarkable!
Let’s get to the injury report.
Sporting KC Injury/Availability Updates
OUT – Kortne Ford (Achilles surgery), Kayden Pierre (hamstring)
QUESTIONABLE – Graham Zusi (hamstring), Alan Pulido (quad contusion), Tim Leibold (illness)
As teased in the headline, Pulido is an addition to the report. My For the Glory KC co-host (and wife), said she thought he was hurt in the Nashville game because he was limping around. I personally assumed it was fatigue, as they were clearly worn down (on short rest!) as usual.
The other addition to the report is Tim Leibold, who missed Wednesday’s game with illness. This injury report is actually dated from Thursday the 21st, so hopefully he’s recovered because Logan Ndenbe had a fatigue filled nightmare outing being personally responsible for the first two goals that Nashville scored (and possibly some fault on the third, though he may have been pushed).
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Starting XI Predictions
As the record at the top of the article shows, Sporting KC don’t win (much) on short rest. Yet, defining insanity, the team does the same thing over and over again expecting different results. After the Nashville game, Peter Vermes said, “we looked tired, we looked slow.”
Vermes: "They had a lot more energy. We looked tired, we looked slow."
— Chad Smith (@PlayFor90) September 21, 2023
He did say “a couple guys got sick,” that he was planning to rotate in. The only one we know that was sick for sure was the aforementioned Leibold. I want to believe the sickness explanation, but it feels like an excuse. I don’t doubt Leibold was sick because he was nowhere to be found, but others were on the bench and in the locker room, but that doesn’t mean they weren’t recovering.
Vermes clearly puts out what he thinks is his “best lineup” in these short-rest games and they often lose anyways. So why not rotate the squad (you may still lose anyways), and then have a healthy, rested team for the 3rd game in eight days instead of compromising both games. In an effort to win them both, the team often underperforms in both.
That’ll be the premise for my lineup predictions.
It’s (Big) Willy Time
I was going to predict Willy Agada should start anyways to preserve the 32-year-old legs of Alan Pulido who will be in KC for three more seasons. Now, I’m certain he should start. If Pulido is healthy, then he can come off the bench. Because even if he’s not hurt, he shouldn’t play nearly three full games in eight days.
I was advocating for a midweek Agada start where KC absorbed pressure and countered instead of playing into Nashville’s hands.
Can Radoja Start?
Nemanja is the key to this team’s midfield. He started and played 81 minutes on Saturday against Minnesota United and came off after 45 against Nashville. He’s had trouble staying fit all season, so it may be asking too much. If he can’t go, the seemingly endless motor of Remi Walter likely steps in, but he’s played (nearly) all the minutes this season and even he can run out of gas. Plus, he’s an 8, not a 6. Playing him deeper brings risks.
If Remi has to move back in the midfield, either Erik Thommy or Gadi Kinda can probably start (if not both). Neither have played all the minutes this week, and they are two critical players. If only one of them start, I imagine it’s Felipe Gutierrez next to them, but I’d be fine with a Felipe Hernandez start (he played his heart out recently for SKC II) or even Roger Espinoza (though I prefer him off the bench as he screams ‘only play me for 30 minutes’ with his age). Give me a Felipe in the starting lineup. I imagine we’ll get Guti, but I’d take Hernandez.
Who is the Starting Left Back?
Ndenbe had a rough outing against Nashville. He’s also had fitness issues over the year with nagging injuries here or there. Hopefully Tim Leibold is healthy enough to start. If not, this could be trouble. Robert Voloder did play some defensive-heavy LB early in the year when the injuries piled up, but I need him elsewhere.
Dany Rosero has looked shaky when asked to play three times in a week. After the Nashville game he looked absolutely spent and was clearly feeling it in the locker room post-game. However, he has no proper backup with Kortne Ford out for the season. Voloder would be out of position at RCB (though he’s played there) and Robert Castellanos and Chris Rindov have gotten shredded at times in MLS Next Pro in recent weeks.
On the left, Andreu Fontas has absolutely struggled in recent weeks. He played a disaster of a game against Minnesota, even though Sporting KC managed to steal a win. He came off early for Voloder against Nashville and I really need to see if the U-22 signing (with a transfer fee) can hang in MLS. He’s still super young, but the U-22 signing group (Voloder, Tzionis and Ndenbe) are looking like money that’s not well spent when you see other teams getting impact players with those spots.
Rest of the Lineup
- Let Marinos Tzionis get a start for Russell or Salloi. He’s another U-22 who barely plays. He can do 45-60 and then the other can sub on to make an impact. Or let him play all 90 and whoever doesn’t start (Russell in my graphic) can come on for the other regular starter.
- Let’s hope Jake Davis’ legs don’t fall off. There is no one else to play right back and he’s been amazing in recent weeks.
- No changes in net.
- Statistics show if you rotate more than two starters, you are less likely to win. This is five changes, but it’s because of the no rotation midweek. I’d guess KC lose, but we’ll see.
Rest of the 20: Pulskamp, Espinoza, Pulido, Ndenbe, Fontas, Russell, Shelton, Kinda, Radoja
No voting with a double game week. Too much (?) soccer it seems.