Starting XI is a biweekly series on SportingKC.com that highlights 11 of the biggest storylines and news updates from Sporting Kansas City, MLS and soccer around the globe. Click here to visit the Starting XI archive.
1. Quakes Crumble
Sporting Kansas City stayed unbeaten and earned its first win of 2017 on Saturday, sinking the San Jose Earthquakes by a 2-1 scoreline at Children’s Mercy Park. Benny Feilhaber stole the show with a sublime strike in the 37th minute before a fortuitous own goal ultimately sealed the result. Manager Peter Vermes expressed his delight with the comprehensive performance postgame, while Soony Saad was happy to play a part in the game-sealing goal. Saturday also saw Dom Dwyer celebrate a special milestone for the club with his 100th MLS start.
Better late than never, right? Just when it appeared as if no Sporting KC players would be selected to represent the U.S. Men’s National Team for two upcoming World Cup qualifiers, head coach Bruce Arena called in Graham Zusi on Friday and Matt Besler two days later. Zusi was an injury replacement for Fabian Johnson, and Besler was added to bolster Arena’s backline corps.
The Sporting KC duo are now set to square off against club teammate Roger Espinoza, as the U.S. MNT will host Honduras in a pivotal World Cup qualifier on Friday in San Jose (9:30 p.m. CT, FS1). The Americans lost their first two matches in the Hexagonal last November, adding extra urgency to #Get3 against Los Catrachos.
3. Stars of the Show
In a game Sporting Kansas City dominated for long periods, two players stood out. Feilhaber, of course, bagged a wonder-goal but also created a handful of scoring chances and made his presence felt in the middle of the park. Tim Melia, meanwhile, produced a pivotal save in the dying embers of the match to ensure all three points for the hosts. As a result, Feilhaber and Melia landed MLS Team of the Week honors from various outlets on Monday.
4. Brilliant Benny
That beautiful hit from Feilhaber? Yeah, it’s a healthy candidate for MLS Goal of the Week. Click here to cast your vote, as Jozy Altidore, Josef Martinez, Dave Romney and Maximiliano Urruti are also in contention for the weekly accolade. Feilhaber has now scored 25 MLS goals in a Sporting KC uniform, becoming the 11th player to reach the milestone.
5. Terrific Tim
Saturday’s result was never in much doubt — until the final seconds of the match. That’s when Melia spared Sporting KC blushes with a jaw-dropping save to deny Simon Dawkins an last-gasp equalizer. Not surprisingly, Melia’s stop is up for MLS Save of the Week. You should go vote for that one, too.
6. Rangers Ready
The Swope Park Rangers kick off their 2017 USL campaign Saturday, hosting Jimmy Nielsen and OKC Energy FC in at 7:30 p.m. kickoff at Children’s Mercy Victory Field at Swope Soccer Village. Tickets are available at SeatGeek.com and the match will stream live on SportingKC.com. The Rangers concluded preseason preparations on Saturday, battling Creighton University to a 1-1 draw.
7. Canada Call-up
Two players who starred for the Swope Park Rangers in 2016 are preparing to represent their country on the international level. Defender Amer Didic and forward Mark Anthony Gonzalez have joined the Canada U-23s for a tournament in Qatar, where they will face Uzbekistan on Saturday and hosts Qatar next Tuesday, March 28. Remarkably, this marks the first time that either 22-year-old has been included in a Canada youth national team. Didic was a USL All-League First Team selection and a finalist for 2016 Defender of the Year, while Gonzalez scored a team-best 12 goals last season.
8. Young Guns
The Sporting KC Academy enjoyed another successful weekend, sweeping Lonestar SC in Saturday’s doubleheader at Swope Soccer Village. The results keep both teams in solid position to qualify for the U.S. Soccer Development Academy Playoffs, which begin in June. Elsewhere, Sporting KC Academy players Jaylin Lindsey and Grayson Barber helped the U.S. U-17s to a 4-1 win over Japan. Lindsey and Barber are members of the U.S. Soccer Residency program, which will complete its final semester this spring after 18 successful years.
9. League Lowdown
Week 3 saw 11 MLS matches produce 36 goals, as teams like Portland, Atlanta and FC Dallas continued their impressive starts while others — like Toronto, Seattle, Sporting KC — claimed their first victories. MLSsoccer.com analyst Matt Doyle examines hot offenses among other developments, Sam Stejskal provides a rapid-fire rundown of league results, and Susannah Collins and Calen Carr are joined by former MLS defender Brian Dunseth to recap absolutely all of it on camera.
10. Elite Eight
The quarterfinal matchups are set in the UEFA Champions League, packed with plenty of intrigue from one fixture to the next. Title holders Real Madrid will face German powerhouse Bayern Munich, while star-studded Barcelona — fresh off their stunning comeback win over Paris-St. Germain — will meet Italian heavyweight Juventus. Christian Pulisic and Borussia Dortmund drew French upstarts AS Monaco, while Leicester City will look to continue their Cinderella story against reigning finalist Atletico Madrid. The two-legged quarterfinals will be played April 11, 12, 18 and 19.
11. Ice Cream Dream
Sporting KC Uphoria users have one more day to redeem their free Breyers ice cream at Price Chopper locations in the Kansas City area. Simply open the offer card under the “Alerts” tab within Uphoria, then show it to the Price Chopper cashier at checkout to enjoy your Breyers ice cream free of charge. Download Uphoria on the App Store and Google Play to enhance your Sporting KC experience with breaking news, live stats, MySKC Cam, SeatGeek ticket managing and more.
Games to Watch (March 21-23)
|DATE/TIME (CT)||GAME||COMPETITION||TV CHANNEL|
|Wed., Mar. 22, 2pm||Germany vs. England||International friendly||ESPN3, WatchESPN|
|Wed., Mar. 22, 2:45pm||Scotland vs. Canada||International friendly||ESPN3, WatchESPN|