Starting XI - Aug. 31, 2017

Starting XI, presented by Ford, 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. When the Yanks Go Marching In

Sporting Kansas City defenders Matt Besler and Graham Zusi have swapped club for country as the U.S. Men’s National Team prepares for two all-important FIFA World Cup qualifiers in CONCACAF’s Hexagonal. First up is a battle with Costa Rica at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, New Jersey, with live coverage beginning Friday at 5:30 p.m. CT on ESPN, Univision and UDN.


The U.S. MNT currently occupies third place in the Hexagonal standings, six points behind leaders Mexico and three behind Costa Rica. A victory on Friday would see the Americans leapfrog Los Ticos and create a bit of breathing room ahead of a difficult trip to Honduras next week.


2. Harrowing Hex

Two other matches in the Hexagonal will unfold on Friday, as Trinidad and Tobago will host Honduras at 7 p.m. (beIN SPORTS) and Mexico will host Panama at 8:30 p.m. (FS2, Univision). All teams in the Hexagonal will play four more matches between now and Oct. 10, with the top three finishers securing automatic berths to the 2018 World Cup. The fourth-place finisher will progress to a two-legged playoff against an Asian side in November with a World Cup spot going to the victor.

Team
PTS
W
L
D
GF
GA
GD
Mexico
14
4
0
2
9
2
+7
Costa Rica
11
3
1
2
9
4
+5
United States
8
2
2
2
11
8
+3
Panama
7
1
1
4
4
4
  0
Honduras
5
1
3
2
6
14
-8
Trinidad and Tobago
3
1
5
0
3
10
-7

3. Lunchtime Kick

FOX Sports today announced the FOX broadcast network will feature two MLS matches airing live adjacent to regional National Football League broadcasts on Sept. 24. FOX Sports’ MLS and NFL presentation features a battle Sporting Kansas City and the LA Galaxy at Children’s Mercy Park, which will now kick off at 1 p.m. CT. The game was originally slated for noon ET on ESPN.


Sporting KC’s matchup with the Galaxy will be available in both teams’ home markets as well as select cities across the U.S. Those areas without the FOX television broadcast of the MLS match will receive a regional NFL broadcast at that time. In addition, soccer fans in markets with an NFL game on FOX can watch Sporting KC’s match live on FOX Sports GO.


4. Musa with the Kiwis

Sporting KC midfielder James Musa could make his first senior international appearance in more than three years when New Zealand hosts the Solomon Islands in the first leg of the Oceania Football Confederation (OFC) Final on Friday. The all-important match will take place at QBE Stadium in Auckland, kicking off at 7:30 p.m. local time and 2:30 a.m. CT, with the return leg set for Tuesday at Lawson Tama Stadium in Honiara, Solomon Islands. Follow @NZ_Football on Twitter for live updates.


The winner of the OFC Final will advance to a two-legged intercontinental playoff in November, meeting the fifth-placed South American team from CONMEBOL qualifying to battle for a 2018 FIFA World Cup berth.


5. Didic Debut?

Sporting KC defender Amer Didic has joined the Canada Men’s National Team for the first time ahead of an international friendly against Jamaica on Saturday at BMO Field in Toronto, set to kick off at 6 p.m. CT. Didic’s inclusion on the Canada senior roster continues a breakthrough year for the 22-year-old center back who made his debut for the Canada U-23s in March, anchoring the defense in shutout victories over Uzbekistan and Qatar at a tournament in Doha, Qatar.


6. Radio Review

With the September international window taking center stage, Tuesday's episode of the Sporting KC Show revolved around the U.S. Men's National Team and its ongoing World Cup qualifying campaign. Hosts Nate Bukaty and Carter Augustine welcomed ESPN color analyst Taylor Twellman assessed the challenge of facing Costa Rica on Friday and the potential involvement of Sporting KC defenders Matt Besler and Graham Zusi in both upcoming qualifiers.


Sporting KC captain Matt Besler joined the same radio station Wednesday morning, speaking with Border Patrol hosts Bukaty and Steven St. John from U.S. MNT training camp near New York City. The defender also shared his keys to beating a dangerous team the U.S. has faced twice over the last 10 months, looking to July's 2-0 Gold Cup semifinal win over Costa Rica as a recipe for success.


7. Gerso Lovely

Major League Soccer's best goals during the month of August included a special cameo from Gerso, whose sweet left-footed bomb nestled into the top corner at the tail end of a 2-0 win over FC Dallas on Aug. 19. Click here to watch the league's top strikes over the last 31 days.


8. Countdown to Cup

Sporting KC will look to write another glorious chapter in club history on Sept. 20 when the New York Red Bulls visit Children’s Mercy Park for the 2017 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup Final, slated for 8 p.m. CT on ESPN2 and ESPN Deportes. In a 21-day Countdown to Cup, SportingKC.com will visit the most relevant storylines, historical narratives and statistical trends surrounding the Open Cup Final, U.S. Soccer’s National Championship.


The daily countdown began exactly three weeks prior to the highly anticipated showdown between MLS charter members, first focusing on Sporting KC's historic success in the tournament before then shifting focus on the club's score-by-committee approach.


9. College Kids

Each week, SportingKC.com will recap Sporting KC Academy players who featured for their respective schools in NCAA action. Players who came through the Academy and continue to train with Sporting KC during the offseason can maintain their homegrown status and be eligible for a homegrown contract with the first team. The first full week of college soccer saw North Carolina senior forward Zach Wright tally three assists across two matches, leading the way among Academy products now playing at the NCAA level.


10. Road to Russia

World Cup Qualifying continues across the globe, including a deluge of matches in Europe and South America where the races for spots are hitting a fever pitch. Brazil are runaway leaders in CONMEBOL qualifying, but spots 2-5 are separated by just a point with Colombia, Uruguay, Chile and Argentina jockeying for any of the top four automatic qualifying spots. In UEFA, traditional powers such as the Netherlands face a stark threat of missing out on Russia in 2018. Click here for a full TV slate of this weekend's World Cup qualifying action.


11. Deadline Day

The European transfer window has finally closed after a day that was defined by collapsed deals. Chilean star Alexis Sanchez is staying at Arsenal, French youngster Thomas Lemar is staying at Monaco, English midfielder Ross Barkley has snubbed Chelsea, and no one is prizing Dutch center back Virgil Van Dijk away from Southampton.


It wasn't all a tease, however, as Paris Saint-Germain have followed up their world-record Neymar signing with the addition of Kylian Mbappe. In a deal that is likely to be the second-largest all-time, the 18-year-old Mbappe will reportedly arrive on a season-long loan before making the permanent move next summer.


Games to Watch (Sept. 1-4)

<strong>DATE/TIME&nbsp;(CT)</strong>
<strong>GAME</strong>
<strong>COMPETITION</strong>
<strong>CHANNEL</strong>
Friday, 1:45pm
Czech Republic vs. Germany
World Cup Qualifying
FS1
Friday, 5:30pm
USA vs. Costa Rica
World Cup Qualifying
ESPN, Univision, UDN
Friday, 7pm
Trinidad and Tobago vs. Honduras
World Cup Qualifying
beIN SPORTS
Friday, 8:30pm
Mexico vs. Panama
World Cup Qualifying
FS2, Univision, UDN
Saturday, 1:45pm
Spain vs. Italy
World Cup Qualifying
FS2
Saturday, 7:30pm
Swope Park Rangers vs. OKC Energy FC
USL
SportingKC.com
Saturday, 8pm
FC Dallas vs. New York Red Bulls
MLS
<a href="https://www.facebook.com/UnivisionDeportes/">Facebook Live</a>, UniMas, UDN
Sunday, 11am
Netherlands vs. Bulgaria
World Cup Qualifying
ESPN2
Sunday, 1:45pm
Hungary vs. Portugal
World Cup Qualifying
FS2
Monday, 1:45pm
England vs. Slovakia
World Cup Qualifying
FS1