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Behind Enemy Lines: Three Questions with Jimmy Mack

We talk to Jimmy Mack from No Other Pod and The Blue Testament about tonight’s opponent, Sporting Kansas City.

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MLS: Sporting Kansas City at Houston Dynamo Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Sandwiched between two road games, the Dynamo are back at BBVA Stadium on Wednesday night for a midweek match against Sporting Kansas City. I caught up with my old friend Jimmy Mack from No Other Pod and The Blue Testament, to get some inside information on SKC.

Sporting has a quick turnaround this week after beating Austin at home Sunday night. Do you expect to see some rotation in the lineup and what are the injury concerns SKC currently are dealing with?

There will absolutely be rotation. This game against Houston will be Sporting KC’s second game of three within an eight day span, so Peter Vermes will definitely look to get some fresh legs in the lineup. SKC has a relatively deep midfield with designated player Gadi Kinda, young talent Gianluca Busio, newcomer Remi Walter, and veterans Roger Espinoza and Ilie Sanchez. Given Vermes is unlikely to stray from his trademark 4-3-3, only three of those five will be able to crack the XI in the midfield even though many KC fans consider them all starting caliber. Busio, Espinoza, and Ilie started on Sunday against Austin FC, but it wouldn’t surprise me at all to see both Kinda and Walter get back into the XI.

Outside of just general rotation, Sporting KC have some injuries at the CB position. Newcomer Nicolas Isimat-Mirin, or Isi as he’s known, was the starter next to Andreu Fontas to begin the year, though he injured his hamstring a few games back and is considered questionable. Center back Roberto Puncec started in Isi’s place against Austin, though Puncec also came off mid-game with a hamstring injury. Since he too is listed as questionable against Houston, it’s possible that we’ll see homegrown signing Kaveh Rad start next to Fontas at CB. The 19-year-old already has two appearances and one start in 2021, so he’s a natural choice for Vermes. Another option could be dropping midfielder Ilie Sanchez to CB. Ilie played on the back line a few times in 2019 and fell back to play next to Fontas to finish out the Austin game, so it’s certainly not out of the question for him to slot in if Vermes isn’t as confident in Rad.

SKC rebounded in 2020 with a strong season after a very disappointing 2019. 2020 was anything but a normal season but what have been some of the key reasons that Sporting has again become one of the top contenders in the Western Conference?

This is a more complicated question than it might seem on the surface. Of course the easy answer is 2019 was a fluke given Sporting’s history of relative success (they had made the playoffs for eight years straight before 2019), and 2020 was the first year SKC had designated player striker and club-record signing Alan Pulido. However, SKC really didn’t play some of the top competition in the West in 2019 due to the COVID altered schedule. Without having to face Seattle, Portland, LAFC, or any of the Eastern Conference powerhouses, it was hard to get a true read on just how good the team was. So far in 2021, Sporting look like there’s potential to return to contender status in the West, but there are certainly a lot of kinks to work out for Vermes if the club is to truly return to the top of the West. Back line consistency will be key in 2021 as a rotating cast of characters filled in the defense all throughout 2019 and 2020. So far the injury bug has already started biting at SKC’s defense, so it will be interesting to see how Vermes manages through some early season complications.

Peter Vermes has a knack for finding players who may not be household names and turning them into key contributors in MLS. Who are some “under the radar” guys on this SKC team that Dynamo fans should be aware of?

MLS: Orlando City SC at Sporting Kansas City Amy Kontras-USA TODAY Sports

Daniel Salloi was the club’s golden boot winner in 2018 with 11 goals on top of 7 assists, only to earn one goal and one assist in 2019 and 2020 combined. So far Salloi has earned three starts at left wing this year, notching a goal and an assist, so Vermes clearly thinks Salloi can return to his 2018 form. The 24-year-old has the potential to be a key contributor for the club if he can get his confidence back to 2018 levels. In the midfield, Frenchman Remi Walter has already shown flashes of brilliance in his four appearances for SKC. Vermes brought him in as somewhat of a utility midfielder saying he could play any position, though his best moments have come when he’s played in the No. 6 spot. He’ll be fighting with Ilie Sanchez all season to take a firm hold on the defensive midfield role, but we could see him in the XI against Houston if Ilie needs a rest or if Ilie falls back to CB as mentioned before.