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. Refuse to Lose
Fellow unbeatens Sporting Kansas City (3-0-3, 12 points) and FC Dallas (3-0-2, 11 points) will lock horns Saturday in the premier MLS matchup of Week 8, kicking off at 7 p.m. at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas. The Western Conference clash will air live on FOX Sports Kansas City Plus, FOX Sports Go, Sports Radio 810 WHB and La Grande 1340 AM.
Sporting KC and FC Dallas are the only remaining MLS clubs yet to lose in 2017. Manager Peter Vermes’ men have yet to allow a goal in three away games but face a dogged Dallas side that is 13-1-4 at home since the start of 2016. Both teams will deploy formidable pairings in central defense, but the head-to-head series has tended to produce plenty of goals in recent history. Big D Soccer expert Drew Epperly gives his thoughts on the high-profile encounter, which he believes will present a fascinating clash of styles. Elsewhere, FourFourTwo’s Scott French gives five reasons why Sporting KC might be the best team in MLS.
2. Party at the Pub
The official home of Sporting Kansas City’s watch parties will again be the place to be on Saturday. Beginning at 6:30 p.m., No Other Pub in the Kansas City Power & Light District (1370 Grand Blvd.) will offer $6 Till Vodka cocktails and an all-you-can-eat buffet with bottomless domestic beer or soda. The buffet is $30 with domestic drafts and $20 with soda. Supporters are encouraged to arrive early to secure seating.
3. Mr. Melia Saves the Day
Sporting Kansas City goalkeeper Tim Melia has an MLS Save of the Week award to show for his remarkable stop against the Portland Timbers last Saturday. Melia made the remarkable play in the 79th minute of a 1-0 win at the first-place Portland Timbers, diving at full extension to touch Darlington Nagbe’s dipping volley onto the crossbar and preserve Sporting Kansas City’s lead. The eight-year MLS veteran now owns four Save of the Week awards, having earned the honor three times in 2016.
4. Duel in the Desert
The Swope Park Rangers (3-0-0, 9 points) will put their perfect USL record on the line Sunday when they play their first road game of 2017 against Phoenix Rising FC in Arizona. Kickoff is set for 9 p.m. CT with a live stream on SportingKC.com as SPR faces a Phoenix side whose roster includes former MLS All-Stars Didier Drogba and Omar Bravo. Led by first-year head coach Nicola Popovic, the Rangers have rolled to three consecutive home wins to open the 2017 campaign, having won the USL Western Conference championship in their inaugural 2016 season.
5. Lindsey Primed for Panama
Seventeen-year-old Sporting KC Academy defender Jaylin Lindsey has joined the United States U-17 Men’s National Team ahead of the 2017 CONCACAF U-17 Championship, running from April 21-May 7 in Panama. The tournament also serves as the qualifying competition for the 2017 FIFA U-17 World Cup, set for Oct. 6-28 in India. Lindsey and the U-17s were drawn into Group C and will kick off pool play Sunday against Jamaica at 12:30 p.m. on CONCACAF’s Facebook Live page. The U.S. will then round out the group stage with games against Mexico (Wednesday) and El Salvador (April 29).
6. Academy in Action
The Sporting KC Academy will continue play in the 2016-17 U.S. Soccer Development Academy on Saturday, facing the Colorado Rush in a doubleheader at Swope Soccer Village. Both games are free and open to the public as the U-18s kick off at 10 a.m. before the U-16s take the field at 12:30 p.m. Both teams are currently positioned to qualify for the Development Academy playoffs in June and sit within striking distance of first place in the Frontier Division.
7. Eyes on the Tube
Sporting KC’s showdown with FC Dallas may highlight the Week 8 slate in MLS, but three other games will be televised to a national audience. The Houston Dynamo will host the San Jose Earthquakes at 3 p.m. Saturday with an English live stream on the Univision Deportes Facebook page. The following afternoon, a Soccer Sunday doubleheader features New York City FC vs. Orlando City SC at 12:30 p.m. (FS1, FOX Deportes) followed by LA Galaxy vs. Seattle Sounders FC at 3 p.m. (ESPN, ESPN Deportes.). MLSsoccer.com will stream MLS Matchday Live on Sunday, beginning at 11:30 a.m. on the MLS Facebook page.
8. Week Eight Looks Great
Two unbeatens square off. Orlando head coach Jason Kreis returns to NYCFC. Bastian Schweinsteiger and the Fire look to stay hot in Toronto. Cascadia Cup beckons as Portland hosts Vancouver. The storylines run deep in Week 8 as MLSsoccer.com’s Sam Stejskal gives us a rundown of every match on the docket, while analyst Matthew Doyle answers all kinds of questions — increased TAM funds, USL development, exciting young talent, et al — in his latest Twitter mailbag.
9. Down to Four
The semifinals of the 2016-17 UEFA Champions League are set. We’re looking at you, Atletico Madrid, Juventus, Monaco and Real Madrid. For the third time in four years, both Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid have reached the semifinal stage together. The former booked its spot with a controversial extra time win over Bayern Munich—Cristiano Ronaldo sure looked offside a time or two—while Atletico squeaked past Leicester City to preserve its hopes of going a step further than 2016’s second-place finish. Juventus made quick work of teary-eyed Neymar and Barcelona, and upstart Monaco rounded out the field with a comfortable win over Borussia Dortmund. The semifinal draw will take place at 5 a.m. Friday morning, live on FS1.
10. Can MLS Solve CCL?
MLS commissioner Don Garber believes teams from his league are inching closer to winning the CONCACAF Champions League. Mexican clubs Tigres UANL and Pachuca tied 1-1 in Tuesday’s first leg of the 2016-17 finals, two days before Garber conducted an interview with ESPN FC. FC Dallas narrowly lost to Pachuca in this year’s semifinals, while Vancouver Whitecaps FC exited at the same stage against Tigres. "You have to get there piece by piece, and from failure comes success," Garber said. "We will learn from not getting through to the final again this year. We'll figure out how we might go about managing that so we have more success next year."
11. The Other Football
The NCAA announced Tuesday that the NCAA Division II Football Championship will stay at world-class Children’s Mercy Park through 2021. Children’s Mercy Park has hosted the game every year since 2014. The NCAA unveiled host cities for national championships or tournaments in 86 sports earlier this week, awarding sites for the four-year cycle that runs from fall 2018 through spring 2022.
Games to Watch (April 21-24)
|DATE/TIME (CT)||GAME||COMPETITION||TV CHANNEL|
|Saturday, 9am||West Ham vs. Everton||English Premier League||NBCSN|
|Saturday, 11:15am||Chelsea vs. Tottenham||English FA Cup||FOX|
|Saturday, 3pm||Houston Dynamo vs. San Jose Earthquakes||MLS||Facebook Live, UniMas|
|Saturday, 7pm||Sporting KC at FC Dallas||MLS||FOX Sports KC Plus,
FOX Sports GO
|Sunday, 9am||Arsenal vs. Manchester City||English FA Cup||FS1|
|Sunday, 12:30pm||New York City FC vs. Orlando City SC||MLS||FS1, FOX Deportes|
|Sunday, 1:45pm||Real Madrid vs. Barcelona||Spanish La Liga||beIN SPORTS|
|Sunday, 3pm||LA Galaxy vs. Seattle Sounders FC||MLS||ESPN, ESPN Deportes|