Starting XI: Sweet Sixteen

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. Sweet Sixteen

Sporting Kansas City strolled to a 3-0 win over Minnesota United FC on Saturday at Children’s Mercy Park, jumping back into first place in the Western Conference as goals Ike Opara, Jimmy Medranda and Saad Abdul-Salaam all found the back of the net for the first time this season. Sporting Kansas City (7-4-4, 25 points) extended their club-record home unbeaten streak to 16 matches — an impressive run that includes six consecutive victories and four straight shutouts.

Opara attributed his team’s confidence at Children’s Mercy Park as the key to Sporting KC’s rampant home form, while Manager Peter Vermes lauded his side for another comprehensive performance in front of their supporters.

2. High Impact

Sporting KC will look to stay hot at home this Saturday when they face the Montreal Impact (4-4-4, 16 points) at 7 p.m. CT on FOX Sports Kansas City and FOX Sports Midwest. Tickets for the interconference tilt are available at SeatGeek.com, and the first 10,000 fans through the stadium gates will receive a free Rally Wear Bandana courtesy of match sponsor Mainstreet Credit Union. Saturday's contest will be broadcast live on Sports Radio 810 WHB and La Grande 1340 AM, and The Final Whistle postgame show will air immediately after the match on 810 WHB. The Sporting KC Uphoria app will also provide live updates and an exclusive offer for free Oreo cookies at Kansas City-area Price Chopper locations.

3. Onto the Hex

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 and Mexico. Thursday’s showdown with Trinidad and Tobago will kick off at 6:50 p.m. CT on FS1, UniMas and UDN. Three days later, the U.S. will visit Estadio Azteca in Mexico City to battle archrivals Mexico at 7:30 p.m. CT Sunday on FS1, Univision and UDN.

Zusi earned his 47th cap for the U.S. in a 1-1 friendly draw against Venezuela on Saturday night, making a substitute appearance in the second half. Besler, meanwhile, returned to Kansas City from U.S. MNT camp in Denver to play 90 minutes in Saturday’s 3-0 win over Minnesota United FC. He linked back up with the national team Sunday and will be available for selection ahead of Thursday’s qualifier.

4. Dwyer on the Cusp?

U.S. Men’s National Team head coach Bruce Arena submitted the 40-player preliminary roster for this summer’s 2017 CONCACAF Gold Cup on Saturday, including Sporting Kansas City’s Matt Besler, Graham Zusi and Dom Dwyer. Tournament rules require the final 23-player roster to be turned in to CONCACAF no later than June 27, and all players on the final list must come from the preliminary roster. The U.S. MNT will kick off Gold Cup training camp on June 25 and the tournament will run July 7-26.

Zusi and Besler have regularly represented the U.S. since debuting in 2012 and 2013, respectively, but Dwyer has yet to play at the international level. The England-born striker became a U.S. citizen in March, thus becoming eligible to represent the MNT because he had never previously played for England’s senior national team.

5. Better Call Saad

Sporting KC forward Soony Saad was named to the Lebanon Men’s National Team roster on Sunday for a 2019 AFC Asian Cup Qualifier against Malaysia next Tuesday, June 13. The match will take place at Stadium Nasional Bukit Jalil in Kuala Lumpur. Saad has earned seven caps for Lebanon since making his debut for The Cedars in a friendly against Oman in May 2013. The 24-year-old striker scored on his debut for Lebanon and has scored three times at the senior international level.

6. Quarterfinal Crush

Sporting Kansas City defender Erik Palmer-Brown and the U.S. U-20 Men’s National Team exited the 2017 FIFA U-20 World Cup with a heartbreaking 2-1 quarterfinal loss to Venezuela on Sunday in Korea Republic. Palmer-Brown played all 120 minutes in a match that ended scoreless through regulation but saw Venezuela’s Adalberto Penaranda and Nahuel Ferraresi score in the 96th and 116th minutes, respectively. Jeremy Ebobisse restored hope for the U.S. with a goal in the 117th minute, but the Americans were unable to find an equalizer before the final whistle. Palmer-Brown played all 480 minutes of the tournament in central defense, wearing the captain’s armband in all five games.

7. You Belong in the Zoo

Sporting Kansas City and the Kansas City Zoo are teaming up yet again to offer a soccer-themed experience on Sunday. 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 on Sunday. 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.

8. San Antonio Stalemate

The Swope Park Rangers (4-4-1, 13 points) held unbeaten San Antonio FC (9-0-3, 30 points) to a 0-0 draw on Saturday at Toyota Field in San Antonio, Texas, rounding out a two-game set against the Western Conference outfit. The Rangers will now embark on a three-game homestand, beginning Sunday at 4 p.m. CT when the club hosts Tulsa Roughnecks FC (5-5-0, 15 points) at Children's Mercy Victory Field inside Swope Soccer Village. Tickets for the Western Conference clash are available at SeatGeek.com or at the venue box office prior to kickoff. The match will also stream live on SportingKC.com.

Ahead of Sunday's game, head coach Nikola Popovic’s side will notably be without influential midfielder Kevin Oliveira, who has joined the Cape Verde Men’s National Team for an Africa Cup of Nations qualifier against Uganda at 12:30 p.m. CT Saturday at Estádio Nacional de Cabo Verde in Praia, Cape Verde.

9. We Need Your Vote

MLS released the first voting update for the 2017 MLS All-Star Game Fan XI on Saturday. Sporting KC goalkeeper Tim Melia is currently third among goalkeepers, while Graham Zusi is fifth among defenders. One goalkeeper, three defenders, four midfielders and two forwards will be voted in as the Fan XI with the third forward selected using EA SPORTS "More Than a Vote" challenge. Melia and Zusi are joined on the ballot by Matt Besler, Ike Opara, Roger Espinoza, Benny Feilhaber, Gerso and Dom Dwyer. Melia extended his lead atop the MLS charts with his eighth shutout on Saturday and also leads the league with a 78.6 save percentage. His seven wins are tied for most in MLS. Click here to vote for your Fan XI.

10. Academy Ambush

The Sporting Kansas City U-18s and U-16s cruised posted runaway victories on Saturday to close out the 2016-17 U.S. Soccer Development Academy regular season at Swope Soccer Village. The U-18s beat Real Colorado 5-2 before the U-16s topped the same club by a 4-1 scoreline, offering the perfect end to a regular season campaign that saw Sporting KC finish in second place in the Frontier Division at both the U-18 and U-16 levels. Each team now awaits Wednesday’s playoff draw for the 2017 U.S. Soccer Development Academy Playoffs, which will take place from June 22-26 in Westfield, Indiana.

11. Hala Madrid

Spanish powerhouse Real Madrid made history on Saturday, becoming the first club to win consecutive UEFA Champions League titles in the modern era with a 4-1 demolition of Italian champions Juventus at Principality Stadium in Cardiff, Wales. Cristiano Ronaldo scored twice as Real Madrid lifted the European Cup for a record 12th time — their third such title over the last four seasons. Juventus stayed close through the first 60 minutes, equalizing in jaw-dropping fashion thanks to a spellbinding goal from Mario Mandzukic, but a devastating final half-hour saw Madrid strike three times to seal the victory.

As SI.com’s Jonathan Wilson writes, Ronaldo delivered again under the brightest lights to add to his remarkable trophy haul over the last two years. ESPN FC’s Gabriel Marcotti, meanwhile, asserts that Real Madrid manager Zinedine Zidane has effectively proven he was the right man for the a wildly demanding job.

Games to Watch (June 6-8)

DATE/TIME (CT) GAME COMPETITION TV CHANNEL
Tuesday, 1:45pm Denmark vs. Germany International Friendly beIN SPORTS
Wednesday, 2:30pm Spain vs. Colombia International Friendly ESPN 2, ESPN Deportes
Thursday, 6am England U-20s vs. Italy U-20s FIFA U-20 World Cup FS1
Thursday, 12:30pm U.S. WNT vs. Sweden International Friendly ESPN2
Thursday, 6:50pm U.S. MNT (Besler, Zusi) vs. Trinidad and Tobago World Cup Qualifying FS1, UniMas, UDN
Thursday, 8:50pm Costa Rica vs. Panama World Cup Qualifying beIN SPORTS
Thursday, 9pm Mexico vs. Honduras World Cup Qualifying FS1, UniMas, UDN
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