Starting XI - Jan. 8, 2018

Starting XI is a biweekly series on 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. Trust the Process

Sporting KC center back Ike Opara earned a deserved call to the U.S. Men’s National Team on Monday, joining a 30-man roster for January Camp in Carson, California. Opara’s first inclusion on the senior national team could see the defender make his U.S. debut when the Americans host Bosnia and Herzegovina on Jan. 28 at StubHub Center.

2. Save the Dates

The 2018 MLS regular season schedule was unveiled last Thursday, cementing Sporting KC’s 34-game slate that runs from March through October. Single-game tickets for Sporting KC’s first 10 home matches at Children’s Mercy Park — beginning with the 2018 season opener versus New York City FC on March 4 and ending with a marquee matchup against defending MLS Cup champion Toronto FC on July 7 — will go on sale to the general public on Thursday, Feb. 1 at 10 a.m. CT via

In addition, Sporting KC a limited number of season tickets available for purchase. Group ticket packages for all home matches are also on sale. For ticket inquiries and more information, call 888-4KC-GOAL.

3. Rangers Add Three

The Swope Park Rangers' 2018 roster continues to take shape, as head coach Paulo Nagamura's team has signed three players since the start of the year. Twenty-five-year-old midfielder Bryam Rebellon was first to join last Wednesday, signing from NASL side Jacksonville Armada. Twenty-one-year-old defender Matheus Silva inked two days later, having spent the previous three seasons with MLS club San Jose Earthquakes. The Rangers added another piece today, signing 24-year-old former Columbus Crew SC midfielder Rodrigo Saravia, who has been capped six times for the Guatemala Men's National Team.

4. To the Summit

Two Sporting KC homegrown players and a pair of Sporting KC Academy products have descended on Lakewood Ranch, Florida, for the inaugural U.S. Soccer Men’s Youth National Team Summit, featuring all national teams from the U-16 through U-20 level. Sporting KC has representation in four of the five rosters, including homegrowns Gianluca Busio (U-17s) and Jaylin Lindsey (U-20s) as well as Academy players Cameron Duke (U-18s) and Tyler Freeman (U-16s). The summit runs through Thursday, consisting of 153 total players across the five age groups.

5. Coaching Courses are Coming

The U.S. Soccer Coaching Education Department has announced that the next series of A and B courses will be held at the new, state-of-the-art National Training Center in Kansas City, Kansas. As the newest crown jewel of soccer in the United States, the National Training Center is set to become the permanent home of U.S. Soccer’s Coaching Education Department. It will also serve as Sporting Kansas City’s new training home, the site of the Children’s Mercy Sports Medicine Center at Village West, and host a variety of other coach and referee development programs.

6. Cream of the College Crop

MLS on Friday unveiled the 2018 Generation adidas class, which includes six standout collegiate underclassmen who will enter the professional ranks through the 2018 MLS SuperDraft presented by adidas on Jan. 19 in Philadelphia: Mo Adams of Syracuse, Francis Atuahene of Michigan, Joao Moutinho of Akron, Mason Toye of Indiana, Ema Twumasi of Wake Forest and Gordon Wild of Maryland. Sporting KC currently holds two picks in the first round of the draft at No. 13 and No. 18 overall.

7. Barca breaks bank for Coutinho

After months of discussion and speculation, 25-year-old Brazilian playmaker Philippe Coutinho has sealed a blockbuster move from storied English club Liverpool to Spanish powerhouse Barcelona. According to reports, Liverpool will receive a transfer fee of approximately $200 million, making it the third-largest transfer of all-time behind Paris-St. Germain’s acquisitions of Neymar and Killian Mbappe last summer.

8. Eight Ball

With the U.S. Soccer presidential campaign gaining steam ahead of the Feb. 10 election in Orlando,’s Grant Wahl prodded at funding transparency this week by asking all eight candidates how they have funded their respective campaigns. Some responses are similar—four are funding fully out of their own pockets—while others vary to differing degrees.

9. Gonzalez Picks Mexico

According to sources, Monterrey midfielder and U.S.-Mexico dual national Jonathan Gonzalez has decided to play for Mexico over the U.S. for his international future. The 18-year-0ld Gonzalez was born in California and has featured for the U.S. at the U-14 through U-20 levels, but has yet to play for the senior team.

10. Lichaj Sinks Gunners

U.S. international fullback Eric Lichaj sparked a massive upset in the English FA Cup on Sunday, scoring twice as second-division side Nottingham Forest defeated Arsenal by a 4-2 scoreline in the round of 64. Lichaj’s header gave Forest the lead before his jaw-dropping volley sealed the memorable result. Unfortunately, he fell one goal short of a coveted target — a hat-trick would have seen him get a seal of approval from his wife for a new puppy.

11. NASL Changeup

The North American Soccer League (NASL) announced today that it will adopt an international calendar beginning with the 2018-19 season, which will run from August 2018 through June 2019. Per an NASL statement, the calendar change stemmed from the U.S. Soccer Federation’s decision to revoke the NASL's Division II sanctioning. The NASL will not operate the 2018 spring season, meaning the league faces a hiatus until August. 

Games to Watch (Jan. 9-11)

<strong>DAY / TIME&nbsp;(CT)</strong>
Tuesday, 12:30pm
Atletico Madrid vs. Lleida
Spanish Copa del Rey
Tuesday, 1:45pm
Manchester City vs. Bristol City
English Carabao Cup
Tuesday, 2:30pm
Valencia vs. Las Palmas
Spanish Copa del Rey
Wednesday, 2pm
Chelsea vs. Arsenal
English Carabao Cup
Wednesday, 2pm
Amiens vs. PSG
French Coupe de la Ligue
Thursday, 12:30pm
Sevilla vs. Cadiz
Spanish Copa del Rey
Thursday, 2:30pm
Barcelona vs. Celta Vigo
Spanish Copa del Rey