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. Pon de Replay
Sporting Kansas City raised the curtains on its 2017 Desert Diamond Cup campaign Wednesday in Tucson, battling the Colorado Rapids to a 1-1 draw. Swope Park Rangers defender Amer Didic nodded Sporting KC into the lead, but Colorado levelled late thanks to a penalty that was awarded through Video Assistant Referee technology — the first implementation of VAR since the initiative began this offseason. Matt Besler, Dom Dwyer and Benny Feilhaber spoke positively about the tune-up, while Manager Peter Vermes assessed the performance of multiple players.
Meanwhile, Daniel Boniface of the Denver Post examined exactly how VAR helped the Rapids salvage a draw.
2. Red Bull Rodeo
It’s right back on the Desert Diamond Cup horse (or bull?) for Sporting Kansas City, as the team prepares to take on the New York Red Bulls on Saturday at 4:30 p.m. CT. Sporting KC won the only meeting between the two sides last season 2-0 on April 9, 2016 behind goals from Benny Feilhaber and Dom Dwyer. The Red Bulls, who mutually parted ways with sporting director Ali Curtis earlier today, are preparing to resume CONCACAF Champions League action next week against Vancouver.
3. Three’s Company
Sporting KC’s broadcast team is set in stone for the 2017 season on FOX Sports Kansas City. Third-year play-by-play commentator Nate Bukaty will be joined by a pair of new arrivals—color analyst Matt Lawrence and broadcast host and sideline reporter Jillian Carroll. The trio called its first game Wednesday in Arizona when Sporting KC faced Colorado. Lawrence enjoyed a 20-year playing career in his native England, while Carroll played college soccer and has sideline reporting experience with the Kansas City Chiefs, Kansas City Comets and FC Kansas City.
4. Match Made in Heaven
You never know where you’ll find the one. For Sporting KC Homegrown defender Kevin Ellis, that monumental moment occurred mid-flight on September 18, 2011 when he met Abby Fisher. In other Valentine’s Day news, KMBC9 recommends fans woo their significant others with Sporting KC’s Valentine’s Day cards, with a full gallery available here.
5. Going for Goal
With the regular season just a fortnight away, Goal.com is rolling out previews of every MLS team. On Wednesday the staff highlighted Sporting KC, a club looking to rebound from another devastating playoff loss, but with a reshaped roster that gives reason for optimism. Goal.com also caught up with Benny Feilhaber, who has high expectations entering 2017.
6. Our Fearless Leader
Costa Rica is pretty nice in February, or so we hear. Sporting KC’s Erik Palmer-Brown is currently in the Central American nation preparing to captain the U.S. U-20s at the 2017 U-20 CONCACAF Championship as the sideaim to clinch a berth in the 2017 FIFA U-20 World Cup later this year.
EPB is listed as one of four MLS players to watch by Will Parchman on MLSSoccer.com, while Mike Woitalla provides an in-depth look at the squad on Soccer America. Head coach Tab Ramos also praised the MLS contingent of the squad as the U.S. prepares to open the tournament this Saturday against Panama at 3 p.m. CT.
7. Within Range
The Swope Park Rangers have begun year two as Sporting KC’s USL affiliate, entering 2017 as the defending USL Western Conference champion. The Rangers will play their first of six preseason games on Sunday, hosting UMKC in a 1 p.m. CT kickoff at Swope Soccer Village. The match is free and open to the public. Fans will also want to add SPR on Snapchat (swoperangers) for preseason photos and video clips as the club approaches its USL opener on March 25 versus OKC Energy FC.
8. Next Generation
The Sporting KC Academy will field an Under-17 side that heads south to Houston this week to take part in the final preliminary stage of the Generation adidas Cup. The U-18s and U-16s returned to action last weekend with wins over Solar Chelsea SC, and will look to carry that momentum into the GA Cup. Sporting KC currently sits in third in the Central Region and will face Toronto FC (Feb. 17), the Houston Dynamo (Feb. 18) and the Chicago Fire (Feb. 20). Earlier this week, Academy director Jon Parry spoke with MLSSoccer.com’s ExtraTime Radio about how Sporting KC approaches player development.
9. Road Trippin’
Away ticket requests are open for Sporting KC’s first two road games of 2017 — at D.C. United on March 4 and at Toronto FC on March 31. Requests for the match at D.C. United will close Friday at 5 p.m. CT. Fans can utilize the Sporting KC Uphoria mobile app or click here to submit their away ticket requests.
10. Swansea to SoCal?
Two months after the American's Welsh wanderlust came to an end, Bob Bradley is reportedly back in talks to become LAFC’s first-ever head coach when the club enters MLS play next year, according to Sports Illustrated’s Grant Wahl. Bradley also wrote his own heartfelt piece on the Players’ Tribune, where he dished on what it was like to coach a crumbling pre-transfer window Swansea City.
11. Barça blitzed, Arsenal annihilated
A stunning start to the UEFA Champions Round of 16 has left two heavyweights on the brink of elimination after the first leg. Spanish giants Barcelona suffered a 4-0 setback at the hands of Paris-St. Germain, while Bayern Munich thrashed Arsenal 5-1. Elsewhere, reigning champion Real Madrid came from behind to beat Napoli 3-1, and Christian Pulisic’s Borussia Dortmund fell 1-0 at Benfica. On Wednesday, UEFA.com’s Rob Daly and Chris Parrott reviewed this week’s round of 16 action and looked ahead to next week’s ties in the official UEFA Champions League podcast.
GAMES TO WATCH
|DATE/TIME (CT)||GAME||COMPETITION||TV CHANNEL|
|Fri., Feb. 17, 1:30 p.m.||Augsburg vs. Bayer Leverkusen||German Bundesliga||FS1|
|Fri., Feb. 17, 1:45 p.m.||Juventus vs. Palermo||Italian Serie A||beIN Sports|
|Sat., Feb. 18, 4:30 p.m.||Sporting KC vs. New York Red Bulls||Desert Diamond Cup||SportingKC.com,
FOX Sports GO
|Sat., Feb. 18, 2:30 p.m.||U.S. U-20s vs. Panama U-20s (EPB)||CONCACAF U-20 Championship||CONCACAF FB,
|Sat., Feb. 18, 8:30 a.m.||Hertha BSC vs. Bayern Munich||German Bundesliga||FS2|
|Sat., Feb. 18, 9 a.m.||Huddersfield Town vs. Manchester City||English FA Cup||FS1|
|Sat., Feb. 18, 9:15 a.m.||Real Madrid vs. Espanyol||Spanish La Liga||beIN Sports|
|Sun., Feb. 19, 8 a.m.||Fulham vs. Tottenham Hotspur||English FA Cup||FS1|
|Sun., Feb. 19, 10:15 a.m.||Blackburn Rovers vs. Manchester United||English FA Cup||FS1|
|Sun., Feb. 19, 1:45 p.m.||Barcelona vs. Leganes||Spanish La Liga||beIN Sports|
|Mon., Feb. 20, 1:55 p.m.||Sutton United vs. Arsenal||English FA Cup||FS1|