After knocking out USL Championship opposition in FC Tulsa in the previous round, FCD travels to Sporting Kansas City for the second time in 10 days to try to reach the round of 16. Let’s take a look at who Nico Estevez is likely to roll out in his starting lineup as FCD approaches their first real period of heavy travel and fixture congestion in the coming weeks.
Goalkeeper: Jimmy Maurer
Whoever starts in goal will be an interesting look into how Nico Estevez and his staff approach cup games. A lot of managers around the world will have a “league keeper” and a “cup keeper” to keep multiple players at that position engaged throughout the season and reward the backup keeper with some starts during the season. I suspect that Estevez will go with this mindset for this game, giving Jimmy Maurer his second start of the season. With Maarten Paes still only on loan through the end of July, there is still a real chance that Jimmy will have to step back into the starting role full time later in the season, so it is important to get him some game time when possible.
Right back: Nanu
Nanu missed some time during April with a relatively minor injury, leaving the vast majority of the right back minutes to Ema Twumasi, who played most of the game against Seattle on Saturday. To give him some rest and get Nanu back acclimated with a start, I think Estevez will turn back to the veteran right back for the Open Cup. I’ve spent a lot of time talking about Nanu and Twumasi, as their ongoing competition for the right back spot is one of the only spots in the starting lineup that is really up for grabs, so Nanu has another big opportunity to stake a claim. But definitely expect to see a fair bit of rotation at this spot throughout the month of May.
Center backs: Matt Hedges and Nkosi Tafari
When FCD last travelled to SKC on April 30th, Hedges did not travel with the group as he was away from the team to be with his family following the birth of his second baby. Nkosi Tafari stepped into his place, starting alongside Jose Martinez. Hedges and Martinez started again against Seattle but with Martinez having played a lot of minutes recently, I suspect that we’ll see him get a game off and Tafari to step into his spot, pairing with Hedges at the back. Tafari has seen a real drop off in his performances thus far in 2022 compared to how he played in his breakout 2021 season, so he needs to take advantage of every opportunity provided to him during the season. This is a big chance for him to make his case for more minutes.
Left back: Marco Farfan
This one was a tough pick. My first thought is that Estevez will want to get Farfan some rest. He has played a lot of minutes in 2022 and done a lot of hard running, including a full 90 minutes against Seattle on Saturday. But with Ema Twumasi also needing rest, that really only leaves two other options at left back: Eddie Munjoma and Isaiah Parker. Parker played for North Texas SC on Sunday, making a start for him really unlikely, especially considering that Parker didn’t even get a start against USL Championship opposition in the previous round. Munjoma did get that start but didn’t exactly have a stellar performance, so I’m leaning into the idea that Farfan starts against SKC before getting some much needed rest against the LA Galaxy over the weekend. But if it isn’t Farfan, I think Munjoma gets another shot in this one.
Central defensive midfielder: Edwin Cerrillo
Well, after mentioning in the monthly position battle article that Estevez and his staff seemed to be playing Cerrillo at home and Facu Quignon on the road, Nico and his staff decided to throw a big wrench into the mix and start Facu Quignon at home against Seattle, bucking the season-long trend and giving Facu his first run of consecutive starts. My assumption is that this was, as much as anything, the start of the squad rotation needed during this month and run of games. With Facu playing most of the game against Seattle, I’ll be stunned if anyone other than Cerrillo starts in this spot. It is a big opportunity for Cerrillo to show that he is able to bring his more progressive game that he has displayed at home to a game on the road against SKC.
Central midfielder: Brandon Servania
This one is pretty much a no brainer. Servania was sent off in the last game against SKC, after playing just 7 minutes as a second half substitute. He’ll have a huge opportunity for redemption on Tuesday as he comes into the game fully rested after being suspended against Seattle. If Servania can get back to his standard that fans have seen prior to the SKC game, FCD should be in good shape in the midfield.
Central midfielder: Tsiki Ntsabeleng
This is normally the spot occupied by Paxton Pomykal, but I think Paxton will get a much deserved game off after a great 90 minute performance against Seattle over the weekend. Thomas Roberts has made his return to the team and he is certainly a potential option for this spot, but I think Tsiki Ntsabeleng will get his third straight start here. Tsiki’s minutes have obviously not been nearly as high as others, even in the previous two starts, he only played 60 minutes in each game and hasn’t had the minute load over the course of the season. Playing alongside Servania instead of Pomykal should also give Tsiki a bit more positional freedom as well and Tsiki has looked more and more comfortable with each start. Don’t be surprised as well if Thomas Roberts comes in as a sub around the hour mark to make his season debut for FCD.
Right wing: Paul Arriola
This one was tricky as well. I think someone in the front three is going to get a game off against SKC. With Arriola being the oldest of those three, he seems to be the likely choice, but FCD has a lot of games on the horizon and there will be more opportunities for rotation. For this game, to keep him rolling after a good goal against Seattle, I think Arriola gets the start with Alan Velasco dropping to the bench to be brought on as a second half impact sub. With Velasco on the bench, Arriola will need to take a more commanding role in the attack and hopefully he can push on following his late goal on Saturday.
Left wing: Jader Obrian
Obrian hasn’t played much lately. His 6 minutes against Seattle were his first minutes since he started the last Open Cup game against FC Tulsa. I think he’ll get another shot to start against SKC to give Alan Velasco some rest and bring a bit of a change of pace and more direct play to FCD’s attack. Obrian was a nice spark plug late in the game against Seattle and, if he is on his game, should be able to put SKC’s backline on edge with his pace and direct running. Szabolcs Schon is also an option here, but Obrian seems to be above him in the pecking order, so I think he will edge out the Hungarian to get the start. Don’t rule out the possibility as well that Estevez goes for even more squad rotation and starts both Obrian and Schon.
Striker: Jesus Ferreira
Another tricky pick, I’m very tempted to say that Franco Jara will get the start here over Jesus. But Jesus is one of the Designated Players on this team and is the closest thing the team has to a genuine star player, so I suspect the coaching staff will continue to lean on him heavily. I do think we’ll see him subbed off earlier than recent games, something more like 60-70 minutes instead of 80-90, but I think Ferreira is too important to how the team plays going forward right now to be dropped out of the starting lineup. That being said, don’t be even a little bit surprised if Jara is given the start to give Jesus some rest.
How much squad rotation do you think we will see from Nico Estevez and his staff on Tuesday? Let me know in the comments below!
Featured Image: Nick Tre Smith/The Kansas City Star