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Seven on Sporting KC’s First Injury Report of 2024

Four players are out, three more are questionable. Plus, a look at the fan vote and predictions for the first lineup of 2024.



'What do you mean I'm on the injury report?' -- Johnny Russell (probably) | Credit: Thad Bell

The 2024 season starts for Sporting Kansas City on Saturday as they hit the road to face the Houston Dynamo. If you are looking for preview content, outside of just injuries and lineup predictions, the KC Soccer Journal has you covered on that front in both the written word and podcast form.

In Writing: 


Sporting KC Injury/Availability Updates

OUT – Logan Ndenbe (Torn ACL), Khiry Shelton (ankle surgery), Ozzie Cisneros (Quad), Danny Flores (Head)

QUESTIONABLE – Tim Leibold (Ear Contusion), Johnny Russell (Groin), Daniel Salloi (Quad)

The injury report being at seven was a little surprising. Of course, we knew about Ndenbe and Shelton since they both had surgery. We were even aware that Flores wasn’t participating on Tuesday. Cisneros showing up makes sense, as he was missing from a lot of preseason but with him buried on the depth chart, he didn’t stand out as rising to the level of a post-game press conference question.

However, the last three names are probably of some concern to fans: Russell, Salloi and Leibold. All three are presumed starters and its obvious why fans may panic. However, just Thursday Peter Vermes said this is the healthiest team coming out of a preseason in a long time and “everybody’s good.” I can’t help but think, it’s a little gamesmanship on PV’s part.

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Starting XI Predictions

Usually, on the first lineup prediction of the season, I break down every position to see who is likely to start. That doesn’t feel necessary this year. I wrote a “Way Too Early” depth chart back in December and that still feels right for the starters if they are healthy. However, I do think the depth has shuffled a bit.

Instead, let’s just do hypotheticals in who would step in if the questionable guys are actually unavailable.

What if Salloi Can’t Play?

Going into the offseason, it looked like Marinos Tzionis was the backup left winger. And he still could be. But when Salloi missed a chunk of time in preseason, it was 2023 first round SuperDraft pick Stephen Afrifa that replaced him.

Afrifa was drafted as a center forward, but apparently played winger before a conversion in college to CF. Even last year, after joining the team late, Peter Vermes and his staff said they identified winger may be his best spot. I’d guess if Salloi can’t go, or at least can’t go 90 minutes, Afrifa might be the next man up.

What if Russell Can’t Play?

Afrifa actually started wide right in the final preseason game when Russell sat out, likely with this same groin injury that finds him on today’s injury report. However, Russell was a full participant in practice on Thursday per my colleague Thad Bell and I suspect he’ll be ready.

If he can’t start though, while it could be Afrifa, newly promoted SKC II signing Alenis Vargas appears to be the backup right winger. The 20-year-old only started playing soccer at 16 and looked like a star in the making with Sporting KC II in 2023. He’s signed to the longest contract on the entire first team roster, so I think the team believes in him as well.

I’d put money on Vargas and Afrifa playing in this game, even if they don’t start.

What if Leibold Can’t Play?

The team only has two left backs (with Ndenbe out with ACL surgery) and the other is new signing Zorhan Bassong. He spent time in MLS a couple seasons ago with CF Montreal and actually is a former teammate of Ndenbe’s. He started the last couple preseason games and is the obvious candidate.

Technically, someone like Kayden Pierre or Robert Voloder could play out of position, but I’m confident it’s Bassong if they need to let Leibold recover. Deep down, I think all the questionable guys will play though.

Sporting KC v Houston Dynamo: Preview, Injuries & Predictions

Rest of the Lineup

Since we know the starters (probably, minus injuries), let’s talk about who might sub in for who.

  • The above three players are all likely candidates for coming out early. They all have injuries and definitely the muscle injuries (Salloi, Russell) are of more concern.
  • Erik Thommy always seems to work so hard he’s gassed by the 70th minute. Memo Rodriguez subbing in for him would make a ton of sense against his former team.
  • Willy Agada scored five goals in the last two preseason games. Let’s not run Pulido into the ground.
  • Of course, an injury could change these plans, but my last dark horse sub (assuming someone like Leibold can go all 90), would be Dany Rosero coming off. He joined preseason late and wasn’t playing full shifts so it’s possible his fitness isn’t quite there yet.
  • Five subs from Peter Vermes? I actually think because fitness is a concern, it’s more likely than usual.

Rest of the 20: Pulskamp, Rodriguez, Agada, Bassong, Voloder, Castellanos, Vargas, Afrifa, Hernandez

Fan XI

It’s the first vote of the year, so let’s put down every single vote just for fun. But first, some observations on your votes.

  • We picked the same lineup. There is a clear divide between the starters and the backups, as we’ve talked about to death this offseason.
  • Radoja only having 88 percent is bananas. He may be the most important starter…
  • Pulido in the midfield is interesting. Maybe he moves back and Agada plays striker some. That said, Pulido got votes at multiple spots in the same lineup because his totals are over 100 percent. #Math
  • I definitely think some of you are trolling with these votes!

Here is the tally of your fan vote. Starters in italics.

Goalkeepers: Melia (95.6%), Pulskamp (4.4%), Schewe (1.3%)

Defenders: Davis (95.0%), Fontas (95.0%), Rosero (93.7%), Leibold (76.7%), Bassong (15.7%), Castellanos/Voloder (7.5%), Pierre (5.7%), Rindov (1.9%)

Midfielders: Thommy (98.1%), Walter (96.2%), Radoja (88.1%), Rodriguez (6.9%), Pulido (5.0%), Hernandez (4.4%), Davis (2.5%), Cisneros/Russell/Tzionis (1.9%), Flores (1.3%)

Wingers: Salloi (95.0%), Russell (83.6%), Afrifa (11.9%), Vargas (6.3%), Pulido (3.8%), Tzionis (3.1%), Shelton/Thommy (1.9%), Cisneros (1.3%)

Strikers: Pulido (94.3%), Agada (6.9%), Vargas/Russell (1.9%), Salloi/Shelton/Thommy (1.3%), Tzionis/Afrifa (0.6%)

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