Sounder at Heart: Between suspensions and injuries, Sporting KC’s squad is looking pretty thin. I suppose it’s fitting the stadium is sponsored by a hospital. What will the squad look like on Sunday?
The Blue Testament: The good news for Sporting KC is that they may get back their captain, CB Matt Besler, who has missed the last month with a hamstring injury. The bad news is that’s about the end of the good news for Sporting KC.
The biggest area of worry for SKC right now is in the attack. Starting striker Krisztian Nemeth will miss the game due to red card suspension, and the only other striker on the roster, Erik Hurtado, continues to be out for multiple months while battling injuries. Daniel Salloi would normally step into the striker role as an emergency fill-in, but that would leave no one to play left wing as Gerso Fernandes is out with a broken wrist. The most likely scenario is that Yohan Croizet, SKC’s DP utility player, will fill in as a false 9, which he’s done sparingly before. The less likely scenario is that Peter Vermes will put teenager Gianluca Busio at striker. The 16-year-old is a natural attacking midfielder, but he’s shown he can score goals this year, so perhaps Vermes will turn him loose and see what he can do up top.
The midfield will almost certainly be made up of Felipe Gutierrez, Benny Feilhaber, and Ilie Sanchez, as Roger Espinoza is out with a knee injury. The backline has some question marks of its own, as CB Andreu Fontas and RB Graham Zusi are both listed as questionable for the game. My money is on Zusi starting, but Fontas staying on the bench while Hungarian CB Botond Barath gets the start.
SAH: It looks like SKC is going by the classic Sounders’ playbook of digging themselves a big hole early in the season. If they’re going to really pull a Sounders in the second half of the season, what will be some of the reasons that happen?
BT: Get healthy. It’s that simple. When fully fit, Sporting KC are one of the more talented teams in the Western Conference, and they showed that in flashes at the start of the season. The problem is that this team has just been decimated by injuries to the point where Peter Vermes has had to cancel practices, and the team hasn’t been able to field a full 18 multiple times this season. Vermes puts part of the injury blame on the early season schedule thanks to Concacaf Champions League, but that excuse can only last so long. Bringing back Benny Feilhaber was a necessary band-aid to help stabilize the midfield and attempt to put an end to the winless streak, but ultimately the team will have to get fully fit—and relatively quickly—if they have any hope of turning the season around in 2019.
SAH: Have there been any bright spots this season, or has everything been super grim?
BT: Gianluca Busio has been a bright spot, hands down. The 16-year-old made his MLS debut last year at just 15 years-old, and he’s already matched his 2018 season appearance total in 2019 at seven, starting four of those games. He’s found the net three times, making him the team’s fourth-highest scorer in just 340 minutes of play. He’s been out with the US U-17 squad at the Concacaf U-17 Championship, where he earned Best XI honors, so his return to SKC on Sunday will be a welcome sight for Kansas City supporters.
Even though Vermes blames it for the injuries, Concacaf Champions League was a bright spot until Sporting ran into Monterrey. Making it to the semi-finals was the farthest Sporting KC has gone in club history in CCL, and being the last remaining MLS team in the competition was surely a source of pride among supporters who felt slighted by the lack of confidence MLS pundits had in SKC ahead of the competition.
Other than that, though... yeah. There really hasn’t been much to be happy about in this season. A win over second-place Seattle would probably be the best thing to happen to SKC in 2019 so far.
When the reverse set of questions are posted on The Blue Testament, they will be linked here.