Starting XI - Oct. 12, 2017

Starting XI, presented by Ford, 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. When the Going Gets Tough

Sporting Kansas City stumbled to a 2-1 defeat at the hands of rivals Houston Dynamo on Wednesday night at BBVA Compass Stadium. Jimmy Medranda fired the visitors ahead with a sensational long-range effort in the 33rd minute, but Houston responded with a pair of goals in the second half to deny Sporting KC the point it needed to clinch a berth in the MLS Cup Playoffs.

Despite Wednesday’s loss, Sporting KC remains in second place in the Western Conference with two matches still to play — two points ahead of the fifth-place Dynamo, who will visit Children’s Mercy Park on Sunday at 6:30 p.m. CT in the second of back-to-back matches between the teams. Sporting KC’s regular-season home finale will air live on FOX Sports Kansas City and FOX Sports Midwest, and a limited number of tickets are available via Listeners can follow the action on ESPN 99.3 FM (English) and La Grande 1340 AM Spanish), and The Final Whistle postgame show will air immediately after the match on 99.3 FM.

2. Playoff Math

Wednesday's 2-1 setback at the Houston Dynamo was a missed opportunity to clinch a playoff spot for Sporting KC, who remain in sole possession of second place in the Western Conference with two regular-season matches still to play. Heading into the second of back-to-back games against Houston on Sunday at Children's Mercy Park, Sporting KC sits on 48 points, three behind leaders Vancouver Whitecaps FC and narrowly ahead of the Portland Timbers, Seattle Sounders FC and Houston. Click here for full playoff scenarios entering the penultimate weekend of the MLS regular season.

3. Over and Out

The United States Men's National Team fell short of qualifying for the 2018 FIFA World Cup on Tuesday, suffering a 2-1 loss at Trinidad and Tobago in the Hexagonal finale. The heartbreaking defeat, paired with Honduras' win over Mexico and Panama's win over Costa Rica, dropped the U.S. MNT to fifth place in the final table and dashed American dreams of an eighth straight World Cup appearance.

Sporting KC defender Matt Besler and midfielder Benny Feilhaber recorded their 47th and 44th caps for the USA, respectively, with Besler starting and Feilhaber coming on as an 84th-minute substitute. The duo will join fellow U.S. international Graham Zusi in returning to Sporting KC this week as the club pushes for a berth in the MLS Cup Playoffs.

4. Survive and Advance

Sporting KC homegrown signing Jaylin Lindsey and the U.S. U-17 Men's National Team advanced to the Round of 16 at the FIFA U-17 World Cup as one of the tournament's best third-place finishers in group play following a 3-1 defeat to Colombia on Thursday in Navi Mumbai, India. Lindsey and the U.S. will face either Group B winner Paraguay or the Group C winner in the Round of 16, dependent on the results of the final group stage matches on Friday and Saturday.

The U.S. entered Thursday's contest atop Group A thanks to a 3-0 win over hosts India last Friday and a 1-0 triumph against Ghana on Monday. Lindsey started and played 90 minutes at right back in both victories as well as the 3-1 loss to Colombia, a result that dropped the Americans to third place in the group based on goal differential and head-to-head tiebreakers.

5. Soony Celebrates

Sporting KC forward Soony Saad and Lebanon have successfully qualified for the 2019 AFC Asian Cup. The Cedars cruised to a 5-0 win over North Korea on Tuesday in Beirut, Lebanon to clinch a top-two finish in Group B with two games to spare. Saad, who has earned nine caps for Lebanon since debuting in 2013, was an unused substitute in the victory.

Lebanon will play two more qualifying matches, visiting Hong Kong on Nov. 14 before hosting Malaysia next March. The Cedars will then turn their attention to the AFC Asian Cup, Asia’s quadrennial national team tournament in which Lebanon made its lone appearance in 2000. The 2019 edition will feature 24 teams, running from Jan. 5 to Feb. 1 in the United Arab Emirates.

6. Rangers Rise Above

The Swope Park Rangers ended their 2017 USL regular season campaign with a 2-1 triumph over Seattle Sounders FC 2 on Wednesday at Swope Soccer Village. Lebo Moloto and Nansel Selbol scored early in the second half to erase a 1-0 halftime deficit and put the Rangers in prime position to host Phoenix Rising FC in the first round of the USL Cup Playoffs, which run from Oct. 20-22.

Wednesday’s victory lifts the Rangers three points clear of likely quarterfinal opponent Phoenix Rising FC for fourth place in the USL’s Western Conference. Phoenix hosts Portland Timbers 2 on Saturday in their regular season finale, needing to win by a minimum of eight goals in order to move past the Rangers via the goal differential tiebreaker.

7. Youth Movement

On the same day their senior teams square off at Children's Mercy Park, the Sporting KC Academy will meet the Houston Dynamo Academy in a tripleheader on Sunday at Swope Soccer Village. The U-17s will kick off at 10 a.m. CT, while the U-15s and U-19s will kick off at 12:30 p.m. CT. All matches are free and open for the public to attend. Follow @SKCAcademy on Twitter for live updates on Sunday and throughout the 2017-18 U.S. Soccer Development Academy season.

8. Bound for Russia

The 2018 FIFA World Cup picture took shape Tuesday as a global day of drama unfolded with the conclusion of CONCACAF, CONMEBOL and UEFA qualifying. A stunning series of results in CONCACAF saw Mexico, Costa Rica and World Cup debutants Panama qualify automatically, while fourth-place Honduras will face Australia in a two-legged playoff next Month.

In CONMEBOL, Lionel Messi's hat-trick in a 3-1 defeat of Bolivia guided Argentina to an automatic berth alongside Brazil, Uruguay and Colombia. Peru beat out Chile for fifth place and will face New Zealand in a playoff next month. And in Europe, nine teams punched their tickets to Russia 2018 with first-place finishes in their respective qualifying groups, while eight second-place teams will square off in four separate playoff ties to determine another batch of European competitors at next summer's World Cup.

9. The Boys are Back

Sunday marks the resumption of Major League Soccer as all 22 teams take the field for their penultimate matches of the regular season campaign. In addition to Sporting KC hosting the Houston Dynamo at 6:30 p.m. CT, FS1 will air a mouthwatering doubleheader that begins at 4 p.m. CT when the New York Red Bulls host Atlanta United FC in a match rife with playoff seeding implications in the Eastern Conference. The second match on FS1 will feature defending MLS Cup champion Seattle Sounders FC welcoming FC Dallas, pitting a Seattle side playing for a knockout round bye against a Dallas side fighting for its postseason life.

10. Spanish Standout

Sporting KC midfielder Ilie earned MLS Team of the Week honors for Week 31 on Tuesday after helping his team to a 1-1 draw at Minnesota United FC last weekend. The 26-year-old Spaniard helped set up Diego Rubio's goal in first-half stoppage time and served as a vital cog in the middle of the pitch, finishing with a game-high 58 successful passes and leading all MLS players over the weekend with 12 recoveries.

Ilie has enjoyed an excellent first season in Major League Soccer, starting 36 of Sporting KC's 37 matches this season in all competitions. He is fourth in MLS with 61 successful passes per game and ranks third among MLS midfielders with 59 interceptions.

11. The Big Leagues are Back

The end of the October international window marks the continuation of top-flight competition in leagues across the globe. While MLS action doesn't resume until Sunday, the Saturday slate in Europe is packed with can't-miss fixtures. Liverpool vs. Manchester United, Juventus vs. Lazio and Atletico Madrid vs. Barcelona highlight a busy day of high-profile showdowns, with a full list of major fixtures this weekend below.

Games to Watch (Oct. 13-16)

Friday, 1:45pm
Lyon vs. Monaco
French Ligue 1
Saturday, 6:30am
Liverpool vs. Manchester United
English Premier League
Saturday, 9:15am
Getafe vs. Real Madrid
Spanish La Liga
Saturday, 11am
Juventus vs. Lazio
Italian Serie A
Saturday, 11:30am
Watford vs. Arsenal
English Premier League
Saturday, 11:30am
Borussia Dortmund vs. RB Leipzig
German Bundesliga
Saturday, 1:45pm
Atletico Madrid vs. Barcelona
Spanish La Liga
Sunday, 10am
Southampton vs. Newcastle
English Premier League
Sunday, 1:45pm
Inter Milan vs. AC Milan
Italian Serie A
Sunday, 4pm
New York Red Bulls vs. Atlanta United FC
<strong>Sunday, 6:30pm</strong>
<strong>Sporting KC vs. Houston Dynamo</strong>
<strong>FSKC, FS Midwest</strong>
Sunday, 6:30pm
Seattle Sounders FC vs. FC Dallas
Monday, 2pm
Leicester City vs. West Brom
English Premier League