Sporting KC Injury/Availability Updates
Official #SportingKC injury/availability report:
OUT – Agada (tibia), Pierre (hamstring), Leibold (hamstring), Ford (Achilles)
— Chad Smith (@PlayFor90) May 4, 2023
The only change on the availability of players is Andreu Fontas’ red card suspension is over. However, the KC Star’s Daniel Sperry did note on Tuesday that Graham Zusi and Nemanja Radoja were full participants in practice, so perhaps they are closer to “probable” than “questionable.” The number of minutes they can go is another question.
Per PV today: Zusi and Radoja were full training participants. It's going to be at least another week out for Leibold and Pierre it seems. #SportingKC
— Daniel Sperry (@sperrydaniel94) May 2, 2023
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Starting XI Predictions
Sheena and I spent a decent amount of time this week talking about how Sporting Kansas City should do something… anything, with their lineup. I said the overused line of the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. Yet Sporting KC primarily rolls out the same lineup each week, with minor changes here or there. Mostly in the attack, which is beyond broken. So, let’s look at each attacking position in more detail and limit my defense takes.
With Willy Agada out for an extended period of time, it’s incredibly likely that Alan Pulido continues to start at striker. He hasn’t been very good, which probably should have been expected since he missed over an entire season of play. Hopefully the rust will shake off soon, as the team is desperate.
As far as other options, the team signed 8th overall SuperDraft pick Stephen Afrifa and he was scheduled to arrive last week. I can’t see him getting more than a cameo if he’s even in the lineup, but all options should be on the table.
Outside of that, Erik Thommy played some false 9 (but really kind of just striker/center forward) against the Tulsa Athletic and Peter Vermes mentioned Gadi Kinda can do this too (and we saw it a couple years ago).
Khiry Shelton has been banished to the bench, and I suspect that continues (but with a midweek game against the Houston Dynamo in the US Open Cup, who knows what lineup will show up). Johnny Russell and Daniel Salloi can move over too, but these all feel unlikely.
It’ll be Pulido. But with five games in 13 days, some sort of rotation needs to happen.
In my mind there are three options here. Daniel Salloi has been the starter. He hasn’t blown it away, but he has a goal, a shot that was saved but the rebound led to a goal, and an assist. So even though three goal contributions* isn’t amazing, the team only has three goals. He’s been involved in all of them. Not to mention a goal and an assist in the Open Cup.
The other options are Marinos Tzionis and Thommy. Tzionis started in the US Open Cup and scored a goal after he switched to LW when Salloi left the game. He looks a bit lost on the right, but Daniel flips over there with Russell all the time. I won’t rule out Tzionis on the left and Salloi on the right (with some flip flopping throughout the game).
Thommy was a wide left player before coming to Kansas City. I even questioned at the time if signing him made sense because that’s the space Tzionis and Salloi operate in. Then he arrived in KC, converted to midfielder and everything was great… in 2022. In 2023, he can’t stay out of the way of the LB and LW. And he’s indecisive. I don’t think he’ll play here, but maybe he should. That said, if you have three guys that are starting quality (maybe not for Tzionis, but who knows, we haven’t seen it) in one spot, that’s starting to look like some weird roster construction.
I think it’s probably still Salloi, but Tzionis should be heavily considered.
Russell and Khiry are the teams only right wingers, unless other guys are played out of position (as mentioned above). Russell has not been good since returning from injury. His late goal against CF Montreal that was called back for Pulido shielding the goalkeeper, might have been the confidence boost he needed. Ironically, he scored that from the left side of the field. Can no one play wide right?
Sebastian Cruz has been doing a good job of this position for SKC II, and as I pointed out, technically Vermes can call those guys up for two games (that they appear in) with the rules between MLS and MLS Next Pro. I don’t see him doing it and I see Russell keeping this job.
If Tzionis starts on the left though, give Daniel a shot here.
Dual 8 Mids
As we’ve discussed before, Sporting KC runs a single pivot midfield (one defensive midfielder) with two box-to-box (#8) midfielders further up the field. For most of this season that’s been Thommy and Roger Espinoza. It has absolutely not worked!
I love Roger, but it’s time for him to go to the bench. It’s past time. Also, it’s time to stop playing Remi Walter at defensive midfielder. He’s serviceable there, but he should be further up the field. What I’d like to see this week is Gadi Kinda starting with Walter next to him. Hopefully Radoja is healthy enough to play d-mid and we can see what this team can do with a proper midfield.
Kinda surely doesn’t have 90 minutes in him, so Thommy can sub on. And Radoja would almost certainly be in the same boat, so slide Remi back, or try Felipe Hernandez or Espinoza at d-mid. They did it in preseason. Espinoza did it against Tulsa. Espinoza’s speed scares me here, but his distribution is actually really good. And he sees the game well.
Rest of the Lineup (Defense Only)
- Tim Melia will keep starting. He’s been really good at times, despite at least one howler. His defense let him down last week, no fault of his own.
- This team needs a consistent CB pairing so they can get some chemistry. I think Dany Rosero is a lock to start, but he’s been up and down. I suspect it’ll be Andreu Fontas next to him. He got a red card last time we saw him, but Vermes inexplicably tried to defend him, so I doubt he’s holding him accountable even if it was absolutely a deserved red that Fontas could have handled better (shuttle the attacker to the side, don’t go in for that challenge).
- Logan Ndenbe should still be in at LB (though he can’t do 90 and play Wednesday) and I think Zusi will be back at RB.
Rest of the 20: Pulskamp, Espinoza, Afrifa, Shelton, Castellanos, Davis, Hernandez, Tzionis, Thommy
Apparently, we didn’t do a Predict the Lineup this week. Whoops!