Sporting Kansas City and St. Louis City SC are set to meet for the fifth time this season and the second time in eight days. If Sporting KC win, the number one seeded St. Louis will be sent packing early from the playoffs. If STL manage to get their first win in Children’s Mercy Park (this is only their second trip), the series heads back to Eastern Missouri for the deciding third game.
Last week, I laid out a tactical plan that I thought would be successful against STL and it worked to perfection. Some would even say it was a Masterclass. Bradley Carnell will presumably try to make adjustments, but I’m not sure Peter Vermes should. St. Louis City have struggled this year when teams force them to possess the ball. Make them figure that out. And if they do, Kansas City can always slide back into their style on a whim, because they drill it so consistently.
Let’s look at that massive injury report and if it changes anything.
Sporting KC Injury/Availability Updates
OUT – Kortne Ford (Achilles surgery), Kayden Pierre (hamstring)
QUESTIONABLE – Johnny Russell (groin), Alan Pulido (foot), Jake Davis (knee sprain), Erik Thommy (calf injury), Tim Leibold (groin), Willy Agada (illness)
Official #SportingKC Injury/Availability Report:
QUESTIONABLE – Davis (knee), Agada (illness), Russell (groin), Pulido (foot), Leibold (groin), Thommy (calf)
OUT – Pierre (hamstring), Ford (Achilles)#SKCvSTL
— KC Soccer Journal (@KCSoccerJournal) November 3, 2023
Only one change on the injury report. Willy Agada, who actually was a late scratch with an illness last week, is officially on the injury report with said illness. Despite the injuries, Davis and Pulido played significant minutes in each game last week. On Sunday, Johnny Russell got a rest and Erik Thommy got a 15-minute cameo. After the game, Peter Vermes said the plan was to give Russell some minutes, but they didn’t need to since they game was well in hand.
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Starting XI Predictions
The report hasn’t changed much, and neither should the lineup.
Can Russell Play?
While Khiry Shelton filled in admirably last weekend, Sporting KC could sure use its captain. As mentioned above, he could have played on Sunday, but could he start? That’s very up in the air. Johnny Russell is a warrior and if his team needs him, I suspect we see him. However, he didn’t practice in the media availability the other day.
Sidetracked with a lot of other things today, but Johnny Russell was the only one who didn't come out on the field for training today. Relatively light session. #SportingKC
— Daniel Sperry (@sperrydaniel94) November 1, 2023
If Shelton has to start, I’d rather have that and have Russell for PKs if it comes to that. And if it’s another blow out, he can just get some more rest!
The Other Injured Guys
Obviously Agada missed the last game, but outside of that, everyone else has played through their injuries at one point or another. Unless the injuries have somehow gotten worse, I don’t foresee that changing. Jake Davis has been a monster in the playoffs. Alan Pulido burst back to life against St. Louis. Erik Thommy probably could have played more, but what a luxury it is having him and Gadi Kinda in the same spot.
As for Tim Leibold, we haven’t seen him in a bit. With Logan Ndenbe playing the way he is, I’m not sure we will see Tim. If the team is chasing a goal, he’s the more offensive option. But outside of that, it’s Ndenbe all the way.
With a full week off between games after a couple short rest showings last week, I imagine everyone else is good to go.
I frankly wouldn’t change a thing with this lineup from last week and have Russell and Thommy ready to come in as needed. The team wasn’t exactly showing a 4-3-3 on the field. It was more like a 4-4-2 in defense with Kinda sliding up next to Pulido and the wingers tucking in next to the other midfielders (Radoja and Walter). I really like the idea of a double pivot with those two. Radoja can play the position so well and Remi can do all the work running around like crazy, disrupting play.
In possession, they slide back into their normal 4-3-3. You may remember they tried this with Thommy instead of Kinda early in the year and it did not work. However, it’s partly the way St. Louis plays that is opening it up and it’s also how dynamic Kinda is. This team will miss him if he doesn’t re-sign after this year.
Rest of the Lineup
- Rosero and Fontas have done a good job in recent weeks, no reason to change that. When Fontas keeps the game in front of him, he reads it so well. It’s when he gets too stretched that he’s compromised.
- Radoja is a lock at the 6.
- Remi is an asset in the midfield too. He works harder than anyone and, while he’s not a good progressive passer, he does well to show for passes to others which helps keep possession. And he’s shown he’s a good late runner in the box as an attacking option.
- Salloi is basically the only feasible option at LW and he played well on Sunday.
- Pulido’s health concerns me, but he seemed to be getting better, not worse, against St. Louis.
Rest of the 20: Pulskamp, Espinoza, Agada, Leibold, Voloder, Zusi, Russell, Thommy, Gutierrez
With the week off, the voting really tightened in on who should be the starters. I’m one of the few leaving Khiry in the starting lineup, but fully expect Russell to go if he’s fit. And Kinda is back to the bench for most of you, despite his excellent game last weekend. The rest is unchanged.
Here is the tally of your fan vote. Starters in italics with guys at five or so percent showing up with their tallies.
Goalkeepers: Melia (100%)
Defenders: Rosero (97.9%), Fontas (97.9%), Ndenbe (95.8%), Davis (93.8%), Zusi (6.3%), Leibold/Voloder (7.0%)
Midfielders: Walter (95.8%), Radoja (95.8%), Thommy (60.4%), Kinda (45.8%)
Wingers: Salloi (100%), Russell (91.7%), Shelton (6.3%)
Strikers: Pulido (91.7%), Agada (6.3%)