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Sporting KC Injury Update and Yes, Messi is Available Too

Sporting Kansas City have four on their injury report and Miami have seven different injured players. Who plays on Saturday?

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Credit: Thad Bell

Sporting Kansas City are preparing for the largest attended game in team and the state of Missouri’s history when it comes to soccer. Bigger than Real Madrid and Inter Milan in St. Louis. Bigger than when Beckham didn’t quite make it to Arrowhead. Maybe the biggest game in the history of Sporting KC, including the February 2022 trip to Atlanta that brought out 67,523 fans.

The reason, of course, is Lionel Messi. And he is officially in Kansas City.

Not only that, but he trained today at the Compass Minerals National Performance Center.

The question is, will he play? According to Inter Miami assistant coach and Real Salt Lake legend, Javier Morales, Messi is available for the game.

This comes after missing nearly a month of soccer before returning for a 45-minute shift against the Colorado Rapids last weekend in a 2-2 draw and a full 90 against CF Monterrey in a shelling in Mexico on Wednesday. It’s a massive risk that Sporting KC took moving their game to Arrowhead, but it looks like one that’ll pay off, in more ways than one.

Let’s get to the freakin’ home team!

Sporting KC Injury/Availability Updates

OUT – Logan Ndenbe (Torn ACL)

QUESTIONABLE – Memo Rodriguez (thigh), Johnny Russell (hamstring), Khiry Shelton (ankle surgery)

There are a few changes on the injury report for Sporting KC heading into the Miami game. Johnny Russell moves up to questionable instead of being out, like last week. Khiry Shelton remains questionable. And Memo Rodriguez returns to the report after just sliding off with a hamstring injury a couple weeks ago. Now he’s dealing with a thigh injury. Related?

As for Miami, their injury report is still a trainwreck.

Campana, Farias and Redondo are multi-million-dollar signings. Taylor is a huge contributor. Kryvstov is probably a starter at CB. It’s grim. But they still have Messi, Jordi Alba, Sergio Busquets and a bunch of other guys you’ve heard of, including the violent goal scoring threat, Luis Suarez.


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Starting XI Predictions

While Sporting KC are far healthier than Miami, they are still at a talent disparity. It’s hard to know who will actually play and potentially missing Memo Rodriguez could be a problem.

Why Does Memo Matter?

Coming into the season, Memo looked like a solid veteran signing. He’s not been perfect, but he’s tied for the team lead in assists (2) with Jake Davis, in about half as many minutes. His set piece delivery has been a revelation for the team.

Beyond that, Peter Vermes trusts Memo. Maybe too much as he clearly leaves him in games when he’s fatigued and therefore a little compromised.

Rodriguez has recently come into a bevy of minutes due to the injury to Johnny Russell. While Memo is capable of playing wide, he’s actually played in the midfield and pushed Thommy out to Russell’s right wing spot. If Rodriguez can’t play and Russell isn’t ready to start, there is a hole in the starting lineup.

If No Russell, then Who?

The first game Russell missed was the LA Galaxy game. Thommy moved wide right, and Alan Pulido, not Rodriguez, played in the midfield. Sporting KC flipped the triangle and played two defensive midfielders and lined up in a 4-2-3-1 with Pulido underneath Willy Agada. It worked really well for about 70 minutes. Sporting KC were up 2-0 before losing 2-3.

The next game was the 3-1 win over Toronto FC. The team returned to their 4-3-3 with an injured Pulido unavailable and Memo went into Thommy’s spot with Erik playing wide right again.

It worked so well, PV stuck with it against the Portland Timbers to the effect of a 3-0 lead before a second straight blown lead in a home game that subsequently ended 3-3.

If Memo can’t play, SKC could go back to that 4-2-3-1 they rolled out against LA. Having two defensive midfielders to try to clog up the space Messi wants to move through isn’t the worst idea. Plus, the wide midfielders (Salloi, Thommy) can help out when needed as well. But Pulido is a bit of a liability in the midfield defensively. It could almost be looked at as a 4-4-1-1, but Pulido would still need to help in defense. He’s a hard worker, but his utter lack of pace is concerning.

Another option is to stick with the 4-3-3 the team knows so well, leave Thommy in the midfield and put Alenis Vargas or Stephen Afrifa at right wing. Them pressing up the right side of the field might force Jordi Alba to stay home more and would put an immense amount of pressure on Miami’s severely compromised defense.

No matter who starts, it feels like a lot of goals will be scored. Miami should be fatigued with all their travel and a third game this week. Sporting KC have scored 10 goals in their last four games. Miami have a league best 16 goals scored. But the teams have combined to give up 22 goals. It should be pure chaos.

I like the younger winger idea best, but I doubt PV will. I think it’s hard to leave Pulido, the most expensive player in club history, on the bench, but he’s not in form. Agada should start and his pace combined with Vargas could be really fun to watch.

Fontas’ Return?

While I’ve loved the athleticism of Robert Voloder and I anticipate a lot more minutes for him this year, Fontas is a former teammate of all these Barcelona guys. His familiarity with the opponents and his ability to read the game will likely prove valuable against Miami. Plus, a lot of the guys running in behind for Miami (Campana, Taylor, Farias) are injured. Fontas probably starts.

Lineup Notes

  • I feel bummed to not even consider Felipe Hernandez, but he has 12 minutes this year. I guess Vermes doesn’t trust him. Though he will be needed with the tired legs.
  • Speaking of tired legs, I think Tim Leibold is good for about 70 minutes a game. I’m not sure if Zorhan Bassong lost trust after subbing on in the opener or if Kayden Pierre should flip to left back, but someone has to come on for Leibold. The fatigued related late game mistakes are piling up. That’s as much on Vermes as anyone.
  • I expect we see Johnny Russell off the bench if there is a need for him. Heck, maybe he’ll just start!
  • I’m less certain how Pulido fits in, unless you are chasing a goal. If you are, play him and Agada together.

Rest of the 20: Pulskamp, Rodriguez, Pulido, Bassong, Shelton, Castellanos, Voloder, Russell, Hernandez

Fan XI

A couple observations from the voting this week:

  • Your voting was about as tortured as the debate I had with myself in this story. There is a real lack of consensus all over the field.
  • Our only differences are you all have Russell starting. That could very well be right.
  • You all agreed that it’s time for Fontas too.
  • Overall, though, a ton of variance in the voting this week, with the vote really being split up.

Here is the tally of your fan vote. Starters in italics. And everyone else who got around five percent or more of the vote.

GoalkeepersMelia (100%)

Defenders: Rosero (96.9%), Davis (95.4%), Leibold (90.8%), Fontas (58.5%), Voloder (41.5%), Castellanos (6.2%), Pierre (4.6%)

MidfieldersWalter (92.3%), Radoja (80.0%), Thommy (66.2%), Rodriguez/Pulido (24.6%), Russell (7.7%), Hernandez (4.6%)

Wingers: Salloi (87.7%)Russell (38.5%), Thommy (29.2%), Vargas (24.6%), Pulido (10.8%), Afrifa (4.6%)

Strikers: Agada (66.2%), Pulido (35.4%), Salloi (6.2%)

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