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. Raise the Curtains
Sporting Kansas City opened its preseason slate of games with a narrow 1-0 defeat to the San Jose Earthquakes on Tuesday at Kino Sports Complex in Tucson, Arizona. Thirty players were involved for Sporting KC, allowing Manager Peter Vermes the opportunity to assess international newcomers Latif Blessing and Gerso Fernandes, along with domestic signings Cameron Iwasa and Christian Volesky, for the first time. Vermes spoke with the media after the game and took plenty of positives from the performance.
2. American Hustle
Sporting KC duo Benny Feilhaber and Graham Zusi remain with the U.S. Men’s National Team for Friday’s friendly versus Jamaica at Finley Stadium in Chattanooga, Tennessee. The match will be broadcast live at 6 p.m. CT on FS1 and UniMas as the U.S. play their final tune-up before resuming World Cup qualifying next month. This week Zusi discussed his transition to right back — a role for which he earned praise in Sunday’s 0-0 draw against Serbia — while Feilhaber is in contention for his first national team start since January 2012 after midfielders Sacha Kljestan and Jermaine Jones left camp on Monday.
3. We're Talkin' About Practice
In a camp filled with faces old and new, incoming players are still acclimating to their environment while returning pros are learning about their teammates. New forward Cameron Iwasa talks about his affection for his hometown, Sacramento, while Molly Dreska continues to capture players in action at training. One member of the squad who is both an incomer and returner has a long-standing bromance with Dom Dwyer worth reminiscing over in both video and photo form.
4. The Kids Can Play
Just hours after featuring in Sporting KC’s first preseason game, Homegrown defender Erik Palmer-Brown traveled east to link up with the U.S. U-20 Men’s National Team. Palmer-Brown joins a roster of 24 players who will participate in a training camp through Feb. 10 in Orlando, Florida. Upon its completion, head coach Tab Ramos will name the final 20-player roster that will head to Costa Rica for the 2017 CONCACAF U-20 Championship, which will send four nations to the 2017 FIFA U-20 World Cup in May.
In related youth national team news, Sporting KC Academy players Jaylin Lindsey and Grayson Barber have been named to the U.S. U-17 Residency roster for the 2017 Spring Semester.
5. Swope Us Off Our Feet
Three months after their appearance in the USL Cup Final, the 2017 Swope Park Rangers schedule was unveiled on Tuesday. The Rangers open the season with a home game against OKC Energy FC on March 25, and play cross-state rivals Saint Louis FC just once in 2017 – away on Aug. 5. In addition, take a look back at the Rangers’ incredible nine-man victory in the Western Conference Semifinals through the eyes of players who lived it.
6. Gotta Watch 'Em All
Looking to catch a Sporting KC match at state-of-the-art Children’s Mercy Park? Single-game tickets for the club’s first 10 home fixtures of 2017 are now on sale at SeatGeek.com, the new and official ticketing partner of Sporting KC that allows fans to buy, share and sell tickets easier than ever before. The available slate includes high-profile matches against reigning Supporters’ Shield champion FC Dallas, MLS Cup champion Seattle Sounders FC and expansion side Minnesota United FC.
7. Growth Spurt
Tuesday was an important day for the future of Major League Soccer as 12 ownership groups and markets submitted official applications for the next round of MLS expansion. MLS President Mark Abbott discussed expansion during a conference call Wednesday, while ESPN FC’s Jeff Carlisle broke down each of the 12 cities vying to enter the league. SI.com’s Brian Straus adds further insight, profiling Cincinnati’s expansion effort and the circumstances surrounding Sacramento’s bid. Fans can vote for their preferred expansion cities at SportingKC.com.
8. Windy City Welcome
The stars are coming to Chi-Town. On Tuesday, MLS announced that the 2017 All-Star Game, presented by new league sponsor Target, will be played at Solider Field in Chicago on Aug. 2. It’s the second time the state of Illinois has hosted the annual showcase, following in the footsteps of the Chicago Fire’s Toyota Park in 2006. In other venue-related news, San Jose’s Avaya Stadium has been selected as the host for the crucial U.S. Men’s National Team matchup against Honduras on March 24.
9. Fulfill Your Fantasy
MLS Fantasy is back, bringing with it some major rule changes—and a few incredible grand prizes — ahead of the 2017 season. Fantasy gurus absolutely must click here for details and recipes for success. Not a fantasy gamer? Proceed to item 10.
10. Later, Lamps
A legend of the game announced his retirement on Thursday, as Frank Lampard hung up his boots after a storied 21-year career at the pinnacle of the world game. The Londoner, who made his name at Chelsea, most recently played for MLS outfit New York City FC, knocking home 15 goals in 29 games for the club over the last two seasons. ESPN FC ponders how the 38-year-old will be remembered, while Nate Scott of FOX Sports looks at the New York Red Bulls’ rather savage farewell.
11. Mummies and Lions
A continental champion will be crowned Sunday when Egypt and Cameroon meet in the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations Final, set to kick off at 1 p.m. CT on beIN Sports. Egypt edged Burkina Faso on penalties in Wednesday’s semifinal — thanks in part to heroics from 44-year-old goalkeeper Essam El-Hadary — while Cameroon ousted Ghana 2-0 today.
GAMES TO WATCH THIS WEEK
|DATE/TIME (CT)||GAME||COMPETITION||TV CHANNEL|
|Fri., Feb. 3, 6pm||U.S. MNT (Feilhaber, Zusi) vs. Jamaica||Friendly||FS1, UniMas|
|Sat., Feb. 4, 6:30am||Chelsea vs. Arsenal||English Premier League||NBCSN|
|Sat., Feb. 4, 9:15am||Barcelona vs. Athletic Bilbao||Spanish La Liga||beIN Sports|
|Sat., Feb. 4, 11:30am||Borussia Dortmund vs. RB Leipzig||German Bundesliga||FS2|
|Sun., Feb. 5, 10am||Leicester City vs. Manchester United||English Premier League||NBCSN|
|Sun., Feb. 5, 12pm||Pumas vs. Pachuca||Mexican Liga MX||Univision|
|Sun., Feb. 5, 1pm||Egypt vs. Cameroon||Africa Cup of Nations Final||beIN Sports|
|Sun., Feb. 5, 1:45pm||Celta Vigo vs. Real Madrid||Spanish La Liga||beIN Sports Connect|
|Sun., Feb. 5, 1:45pm||Juventus vs. Inter Milan||Italian Serie A||beIN Sports Connect|