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The five NYCFC players with the most to gain tonight vs. Sporting Kansas City

A rotated squad means serious opportunities for those on the outside looking in

MLS: New York City FC at FC Dallas Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Western Conference leaders Sporting Kansas City roll into the Bronx this week shorthanded thanks to World Cup qualifying.

But compared to hometown New York City FC, they’re loaded.

The good guys will have to make do without a bevy of operators this evening: Maxime Chanot, Ronald Matarrita, Mikey Lopez, and Ethan White are injured. Rodney Wallace, Alexander Ring, and Yangel Herrera are still making their way back from international duty. To top it all off, David Villa is injured because of international duty.

Patrick Vieira’s cupboard isn’t exactly bare, but expect a quite really different look from the Boys in Blue when they take the field against the Wiz. With so much inevitable squad rotation in the offing, let’s identify five players who could stand to boost their value significantly with a strong mid-week performance.

Frederic Brillant

MLS: New York City FC at D.C. United Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Yes, Brillant has been a first-choice starter ever since Maxime Chanot went down, but that doesn’t change the fact that his future with NYCFC in doubt. Set to be out of contract in December, the 32 year old center back has much still to prove if he seeks another deal to keep him in the Five Boroughs— assuming the club has even preliminary interest.

(If any new contract is to be discussed, re-upping Brillant’s annual wage of $320,000 simply shouldn’t be on the table. It isn’t smart money in a league that artificially restricts spending as much as MLS does.)

As for tonight, “Trill Brill” brings modest aerial ability — still head and shoulders above most of his teammates, to be fair — and has forged an acceptable partnership with the kinetic Alexander Callens in central defense. With fantastic beasts Ike Opara itching to get vertical under the lights at Yankee Stadium, Brillant may be forced to play a super-sized role at the back.

If he wants to wear the famous Etihad shirt again in 2018, asserting himself in no uncertain terms is a must.

Khiry Shelton

MLS: Columbus Crew SC at New York City FC Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Has K19 become New York City’s forgotten man? The club’s first-ever SuperDraft pick has missed a huge chunk of the season with a nagging hamstring injury, and hasn’t managed a single start since 2016 (the emergence of Jonathan Lewis is a huge reason).

His 152 league minutes this year are fewer than backup keeper Eirik Johansen and the out-for-the-season Miguel Camargo. Still, nobody on this roster comes close to matching Shelton’s size-speed combo, and last year saw him improving handsomely in the air and as a playmaker. A series of spirited, defense-stretching performances to close out the regular season could go a long way to securing his future in New York; too much more of the same could see him packaged up for an offseason trade faster than you can say “targeted allocation.”

Sean Okoli

MLS: New York City FC at New York Red Bulls Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

The conventional wisdom is that Ugo will get the nod in the middle of Patrick Vieira’s front three, just as he did earlier this season at Columbus and Real Salt Lake. There are plenty of reasons to feel skeptical about the former FC Cincinnati man playing as a lone striker against a stingy opponent (or any opponent in this league, really), but options are just that limited.

It’s worth noting that Vieira’s continued faith in Okoli did start to pay off in late summer, as a series of substitute appearances placed him alongside David Villa to reasonable effect. This time, if New York City’s number nine can hold up the ball just long enough for Jonathan Lewis and Jack Harrison to jet their way in from the wide areas and raise hell, we’ll take it. Mission accomplished. But if he downright disappears, his role in NYCFC’s long-term future fades that much further into doubt.

!!!JAMES SANDS!!!

MLS: Desert Diamond Cup-New York City FC vs Houston Dynamo Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

There’s a tiny chance that the teenage wunderkind gets a starting nod over Andrea Pirlo. He won’t. But there’s a chance. And that’s f—ing insane to think about.

In a good way.

NYCFC’s first-ever Homegrown Player is fresh off a run wearing the captain’s armband for the United States U17s, who landed a third-place finish at the Vaclav Jezek tournament in the Czech Republic. And surely, fans in the Five Boroughs haven’t forgotten how utterly calm the kid looked mixing it up in preseason alongside the senior team in live action.

With the abiltity to cover at center back in addition to the base of the midfield, there’s never been a better time for Sands to make his senior debut, **gods help us.**

If he does, expect Sporting to challenge him as frequently and aggressively as they can.

With fans ever-curious to know more about the young scion as he eases his way into life as a professional, we’re talking about the potential for an utterly consequential debut with far-reaching implications. Depending on how Sands manages himself if given the chance, there might just be something far greater to cheer about than just a result: the future.

Tommy McNamara

MLS: San Jose Earthquakes at New York City FC Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

Time may be running out for Tommy McNamara in New York City. His performance has taken a step back as he’s found himself increasingly displaced by more talented midfielders despite a breakout 2016 campaign that earned him a fat pay raise. Any buzz around his potential future with the U.S. or Ireland national teams has all but fizzled. If he can’t put his stamp on things soon, he may be more valuable to this club as a trade asset than a rotation player.