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. Looney Tunes
With a two-game road swing in the rearview mirror, second-place Sporting Kansas City (6-4-4, 22 points) returns to Children's Mercy Park on Saturday to host expansion club Minnesota United FC (4-7-2, 14 points) at 4 p.m. CT before a national television audience on ESPN and ESPN Deportes. A limited number of tickets for the match, including standing-room only tickets, are available at SeatGeek.com, and the first 10,000 fans through the stadium gates will receive free Sporting KC sunglasses courtesy of Mark One Electric.
Minnesota defeated Sporting KC 2-0 in the inaugural MLS meeting between the sides on May 7 in Minneapolis, but now the Loons are tasked with visiting a Sporting Kansas City side that is 12-0-3 at Children's Mercy Park since June 2016. The club-record 15-game home unbeaten streak is also the longest active in MLS and includes victories in each of the last five matches.
2. Cutting Ribbons
Sporting Club and the Unified Government of Wyandotte County and Kansas City, Kansas unveiled the Wyandotte Sporting Fields during a commemorative ribbon-cutting ceremony on Thursday. Kansas Governor Sam Brownback joined Kansas City, Kansas Mayor Mark Holland, Sporting Club CEO Robb Heineman, Unified Government representatives and more than 150 youth soccer players from Metro United Soccer Club to formally inaugurate the world-class facility.
Thursday’s momentous event was held in conjunction with the launch of Sporting Fields + Athletics, a new entity owned and operated by Sporting Club that consists of Wyandotte Sporting Fields and state-of-the-art Swope Soccer Village, built in 2007 with further renovations in 2014, located at 6310 Lewis Rd. in Kansas City, Missouri. Click here for more information about the landmark announcement.
3. Amer Aboard
Sporting Kansas City signed defender Amer Didic to an MLS contract for the 2017 season on Wednesday, adding a center back who has starred for the Swope Park Rangers since joining USL in 2016. Per new MLS rules that modified international statuses of Canadian players, Didic will occupy a domestic roster spot on Sporting KC's roster. The 22-year-old is the third player to sign an MLS contract from USL affiliate Swope Park Rangers, following defender Tyler Pasher and goalkeeper Adrian Zendejas who joined Sporting Kansas City in December.
4. Cruise to the Quarters
Sporting Kansas City center back Erik Palmer-Brown captained the U.S. U-20 Men’s National Team to a 6-0 dismantling of New Zealand 6-0 on Thursday in Incheon, Korea Republic, vaulting the Americans into the quarterfinals of the 2017 FIFA U-20 World Cup. Palmer-Brown played the full 90 minutes and led a backline that held the Kiwis without a single shot on target, while six different players scored for head coach Tab Ramos' side in a lethal offensive display. The U.S. U-20s now advance to the quarterfinals against Venezuela on Sunday at Jeonju World Cup Stadium in Jeonju, Korea Republic, kicking off at 1 a.m. CT on FS2, FOX Sports GO and Telemundo En Vivo.
5. American Men
Sporting Kansas City defenders Matt Besler and Graham Zusi have joined the U.S. Men’s National Team ahead of two all-important World Cup qualifying matches versus Trinidad and Tobago on June 8 and at Mexico on June 11. In preparation for those games, the U.S. will host Venezuela in a friendly this Saturday at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah. The match will kick off at 9 p.m. CT, FS1 and Univision. As club captain, Besler has played every minute of Sporting Kansas City's season to date. Zusi, meanwhile, ranks fifth in MLS with 23 chances created from open play at the right back position.
6. Call-ups Galore
In addition to Besler and Zusi joining the U.S. Men's National Team, three other players from Sporting Kansas City and the Swope Park Rangers were named to their respective national teams this week. Midfielder Roger Espinoza will link up with Honduras as Los Catrachos continue their World Cup qualifying campaign in CONCACAF's Hexagonal, visiting Mexico on June 8 and Panama on June 13. Elsewhere, 23-year-old defender Tyler Pasher has earned his first call-up to the Canada Men's National Team since 2015 ahead of a June 13 friendly against Curacao, and 20-year-old Rangers midfielder Kevin Oliveira will join Cape Verde for an Africa Cup of Nations qualifier against Uganda on June 10.
7. Singles for Sale
Single-game tickets for Sporting Kansas City’s final seven home matches of the 2017 MLS regular season are now on sale at SeatGeek.com, the club’s official ticketing partner that allows fans to buy, share and sell tickets easier than ever before. Additional information, including details on group ticket packages, is available by calling 888-4KC-GOAL.
Sporting Kansas City currently boasts a 15-game home unbeaten streak in the regular season, an all-time club record and the longest active run in MLS. State-of-the-art Children’s Mercy Park has sold out 93 consecutive MLS matches heading into the month of June as Sporting Kansas City seeks a seventh straight berth in the MLS Cup Playoffs.
8. Elite Eight
Major League Soccer on Tuesday unveiled the fan ballot for the 2017 MLS All-Star Game presented by Target, which features eight representatives from all 22 teams as nominated by media. The following Sporting Kansas City players are eligible for fan voting:
- Goalkeeper: Tim Melia
- Defenders (3): Matt Besler, Ike Opara, Graham Zusi
- Midfielders (2): Roger Espinoza, Benny Feilhaber
- Forwards (2): Dom Dwyer, Gerso
Fan voting for the 2017 MLS All-Star Game Fan XI is now available through the free MLS app and the EA SPORTS™ “More Than a Vote” Challenge. Fans can continue to vote their favorite players to the Fan XI via the online ballot at SportingKC.com/vote starting this Saturday at 9 a.m. CT. Fan voting will run until June 30. Ten players – one goalkeeper, three defenders, four midfielders and two forwards – with the highest combined votes will be named to the 2017 MLS All-Star Game. In addition, the 11th player on the Fan XI will be determined by the EA SPORTS™ “More Than a Vote” Challenge. The MLS All-Stars will face Spanish La Liga champion and UEFA Champions League finalist Real Madrid at Soldier Field in Chicago on Aug. 2.
9. A Day at the Zoo
Sporting Kansas City and the Kansas City Zoo are teaming up yet again to offer a soccer-themed experience on Sunday, June 11. Fans are encouraged to join Sporting KC players Benny Feilhaber, Ike Opara, Soni Mustivar and Kevin Ellis for the third annual Sporting KC Day at the Zoo. To mark the occasion, the Kansas City Zoo is offering $1 off the price of admission to guests that wear Sporting KC apparel that day. Tickets for Sporting KC Day at the Zoo are available online at kansascityzoo.org or at the Kansas City Zoo gates, and more information is available by clicking here.
10. Regular Season Wrap
The Sporting Kansas City Academy U-18s and U-16s will play their final matches of the 2016-17 U.S. Soccer Development Academy regular season on Saturday, hosting Real Colorado in a doubleheader at Swope Soccer Village. Each match is free and open to the public as the U-18s take the field at 10 a.m. CT before the U-16s kick off at 12:30 p.m. CT. Thanks to strong regular seasons that saw both teams compete near the top of the Frontier Division, the U-18s and U-16s are set to compete in the U.S. Soccer Development Academy playoffs from June 20-26 in Westfield, Indiana. Follow @SKCAcademy on Twitter for live updates.
11. Real Big Deal
Real Madrid will look to become the first team to win back-to-back UEFA Champions League titles since 1990 when the Spanish giants face Juventus on Saturday at Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, Wales. Kickoff is set for 1:45 p.m. CT on FOX as two of the world's most storied clubs battle for continental glory. Ahead of the highly anticipated showdown, CNN's Motez Bishara chronicled the remarkable career journey of Zinedine Zidane, the French World Cup champion who is now the manager of Real Madrid. The New York Times' Rory Smith reports from the opposite sideline, casting light on the final career hurdle for legendary Juventus goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon. The 39-year-old World Cup winner has hoisted almost every conceivable trophy at the club level – with the exception of the Champions League.
Games to Watch (June 2-5)
|DATE/TIME (CT)||GAME||COMPETITION||TV CHANNEL|
|Friday, 10pm||Portland Timbers vs. San Jose Earthquakes||MLS||Facebook Live, UniMas|
|Saturday, 1:45pm||Juventus vs. Real Madrid||UEFA Champions League Final||FOX|
|Saturday, 4pm||Sporting KC vs. Minnesota United FC||MLS||ESPN, ESPN Deportes|
|Saturday, 7:30pm||Swope Park Rangers at San Antonio FC||USL||SportingKC.com|
|Saturday, 9pm||USA (Besler, Zusi) vs. Venezuela||International Friendly||FS1, Univision, UDN|
|Sunday, 1am||USA U-20s (Palmer-Brown) vs. Venezuela U-20s||FIFA U-20 World Cup||FS2, Telemundo|
|Sunday, 6:30pm||Orlando City SC vs. Chicago Fire||MLS||FS1, FOX Deportes|
|Monday, 6am||England U-20s vs. Mexico U-20s||FIFA U-20 World Cup||FS1|