Starting XI: Hop Off the Plane at LAX

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. Hop Off the Plane at LAX

Western Conference leaders Sporting Kansas City (7-4-6, 27 points) travel to California for the second straight weekend, this time visiting StubHub Center for a Saturday night showdown with the red-hot LA Galaxy (6-5-4, 22 points). The match will kick off at 9:30 p.m. CT, with three hours of live television coverage beginning at 9 p.m. on FOX Sports Kansas City, FOX Sports Midwest and FOX Sports GO. Local radio broadcasts will air on Sports Radio 810 WHB (English) and La Grande 1340 AM (Spanish), while the Sporting KC Uphoria app will provide live updates.

Sporting Kansas City boasts the best defensive record in MLS with nine shutouts through 17 matches, but they’ll face an LA Galaxy side that is 4-0-4 in its last eight games and fresh off a 3-1 win at the Colorado Rapids on Wednesday. Sporting KC last defeated the Galaxy at StubHub Center in 2010, and a result this weekend would ensure that Peter Vermes’ men remain atop a tightly packed Western Conference table.

2. Saturday Night’s All Right

The official watch party for Saturday’s match between Sporting Kansas City and LA Galaxy will take place at No Other Pub in the Kansas City Power & Light District, featuring $4 Bud Light drafts and an all-you-can-eat buffet with bottomless domestic drafts. Watch party specials begin at 9 p.m. CT and entry is limited to fans aged 21 and over. Click here for more information.

3. Rangers Rally

The Swope Park Rangers (6-4-2, 20 points) erased a 1-0 halftime deficit to emerge 2-1 victors over Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC (5-5-5, 20 points) on Wednesday night at Children’s Mercy Victory Field inside Swope Soccer Village. Liam Doyle headed the Rangers level in the 67th minute—canceling out Eddie Prugh’s 23rd-minute opener—before captain Christian Duke struck in the 75th minute to secure all three points and lift SPR into a tie for third place in the USL’s Western Conference.

Led by head coach Nikola Popovic, the Rangers are off this weekend before returning to action Tuesday with a trip to Tulsa Roughnecks FC (5-7-0, 15 points) at ONEOK Field. Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m. CT with a live stream on SportingKC.com.

4. Save the Date

Sporting Kansas City’s 2017 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup Round of 16 clash against the Houston Dynamo will kick off Wednesday at 5:30 p.m. CT. The match at BBVA Compass Stadium in Houston will stream live on SportingKC.com. Sporting KC and Houston will meet in the U.S. Open Cup for the third straight year, as Manager Peter Vermes’ men claimed a 3-1 quarterfinal victory over the Dynamo en route to the 2015 Open Cup championship before Houston earned revenge with a 3-1 home triumph in last season’s Round of 16.

The winner between Sporting KC and Houston will progress to the quarterfinals and meet the victor from the FC Dallas-Colorado Rapids matchup, which takes place Tuesday at 7 p.m. CT. If Sporting KC eliminates Houston, the quarterfinal showdown would be played at Children’s Mercy Park some time between July 7-16.

5. Save at the Store

Major League Soccer’s fiercest rivalries take center stage Friday through Sunday during Rivalry Week presented by Heineken. To celebrate the occasion, MLSstore.com is rolling out can’t-miss merchandise deals all weekend long. Click here to access Sporting Kansas City’s online store, where supporters can take advantage of numerous over the next four days.

6. Do or Die

The Sporting Kansas City Academy U-18s and U-16s will begin their respective journeys in the 2017 U.S. Soccer Development Academy Playoffs today at Grand Park in Westfield, Indiana. For the second straight year, the Sporting KC U-18s and U-16s have qualified for the Development Academy Playoffs in the same year. Both clubs enjoyed successful regular season campaigns, earning second-place finishes in the Frontier Division behind table-toppers FC Dallas. Click here to learn about the elite Sporting KC Academy players to watch during the playoffs.

The 2017 Development Academy Playoffs split 32 clubs at each age level into eight groups of four. The group stage will send every first-place finisher to the Development Academy quarterfinals, with four single-elimination matches to be played between July 5-7. The final four teams at the U-18 and U-16 levels will then advance to the Development Academy Championships on July 14 and 16 at the U.S. Soccer National Training Center in Carson, California.

7. Gold Cup Call?

With 23-man CONCACAF Gold Cup rosters due for submission no later than Tuesday, three Sporting Kansas City players are in contention to receive call-ups to the U.S. Men’s National Team in the coming days. Defenders Matt Besler and Graham Zusi will hope to continue their long-standing stints at the international level, while forward Dom Dwyer is finally eligible for selection after becoming a U.S. citizen earlier this year. All players on head coach Bruce Arena’s final roster must come from the preliminary roster, which was announced June 3. MLSsoccer.com’s Matt Doyle and SI.com’s Brian Strauss gave their Gold Cup roster predictions this week, agreeing that Besler and Dwyer are strong candidates to be selected from the start while Zusi may bolster the side once the knockout rounds begin.

8. Midweek Mashup

A busy Wednesday saw eight MLS clubs continue their regular season campaigns, serving up multiple eye-catching results along the way. Minnesota United FC did Sporting KC a favor by scalping the Portland Timbers by a 3-2 scoreline in a wild affair at TCF Bank Stadium, while Orlando City SC scored in the 94th minute to rescue a dramatic 1-1 road draw at Seattle Sounders FC. Elsewhere, D.C. United edged Atlanta United FC 2-1 and the LA Galaxy — Sporting KC’s opponent on Saturday — extended their unbeaten streak to eight matches with a 3-1 triumph in Colorado.

9. Kings of Canada

Matteo Mancosu and Jozy Altidore traded first-half goals as the Montreal Impact and Toronto FC battled to a 1-1 draw in the first leg of the 2017 Canadian Championship final at Stade Saputo on Wednesday night. Toronto will host the return leg at BMO Field on Tuesday.

Due to the restructuring of the CONCACAF Champions League, the winner of the 2017 Canadian Championship is set to face Toronto FC in a one-game playoff in August with a berth in the 2018 CONCACAF Champions League up for grabs. Should Toronto lift the 2017 title on Tuesday, no such game would be necessary and the Reds will qualify for the 2018 CONCACAF Champions League automatically.

10. Halfway There

The 2017 MLS regular season reaches its official halfway point in Week 17, which serves up the first Heineken Rivalry Week of the year. Three nationally televised matches headline the Rivalry Week slate, beginning Friday at 8 p.m. CT when the Houston Dynamo host FC Dallas on Facebook Live and UniMas. The New York Red Bulls welcome New York City FC at 12:30 p.m. CT Saturday on FOX and FOX Deportes before the Portland Timbers and Seattle Sounders FC renew their fierce rivalry Sunday at 9 p.m. CT on ESPN2 and ESPN Deportes.

11. #VoteSporting

Last weekend, MLS unveiled the latest voting update for the MLS All Star Fan XI, presented by Target. Sporting KC has three players in the top five of their respective positions, with Graham Zusi receiving the second-most votes among defenders and center back Matt Besler and goalkeeper Tim Melia both sitting in fourth place. Melia tallied his league-best ninth shutout last Saturday in a 0-0 road draw at the San Jose Earthquakes and also tops the MLS charts with an 82.8 save percentage and a 0.65 goals against average. Zusi and Besler, meanwhile, have anchored a defense that has conceded just 11 times in 17 games. Zusi leads all defenders in chances created from open play, while Besler leads all defenders in successful passes. Fans can vote at SportingKC.com/vote until July 1 at 2 a.m. CT.

Games to Watch (June 23-26)

DATE/TIME (CT) GAME COMPETITION CHANNEL
Friday, 8pm Houston Dynamo vs. FC Dallas MLS Facebook Live, UniMas
Saturday, 10am Mexico vs. Russia FIFA Confederations Cup FOX
Saturday, 10am New Zealand vs. Portugal FIFA Confederations Cup FS1
Saturday, 12:30pm New York Red Bulls vs. New York City FC MLS FOX
Saturday, 9:30pm Sporting KC at LA Galaxy MLS FSKC, FS Midwest
Sunday, 10am Germany vs. Cameroon FIFA Confederations Cup FOX, FOX Deportes
Sunday, 10am Chile vs. Australia FIFA Confederations Cup FS1
Sunday, 9pm Portland Timbers vs. Seattle Sounders FC MLS ESPN2, ESPN Deportes
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