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. StubHub Stunner
Sporting Kansas City used first-half goals from Roger Espinoza and Ike Opara to claim a 2-1 victory over the LA Galaxy at StubHub Center on Saturday night. The result lifts Sporting Kansas City (8-4-6, 30 points) five points clear atop the Western Conference and gives Manager Peter Vermes’ men their first road win against the Galaxy (6-6-4, 22 points) since 2010, snapping LA’s eight-game unbeaten streak in the process.
Espinoza scored a 30-yard belter halfway through the first period before Opara’s stunning bicycle kick gave Sporting Kansas City a two-goal cushion 10 minutes before the break. Dave Romney would grab one back for LA in the 77th minute, but the Galaxy were unable to find an equalizer in the dying embers of an exciting, back-and-forth battle.
2. Twice as Nice
With a big weekend win under their belts, Manager Peter Vermes' men will now turn their attention to the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, where they will face rivals Houston Dynamo in Wednesday's Round of 16 showdown at BBVA Compass Stadium in Houston. Kickoff is set for 5:30 p.m. CT with a live stream on SportingKC.com. The winner will advance to the U.S. Open Cup quarterfinals and host either FC Dallas or the Colorado Rapids some time between July 7-16.
After facing Houston, Sporting Kansas City will return to Children's Mercy Park on Saturday for the resumption of MLS regular season play against the Portland Timbers (7-7-4, 25 points). The Western Conference clash will kick off at 6 p.m. CT with national television coverage on ESPN and ESPN Deportes, while local radio broadcasts will air on Sports Radio 810 WHB and La Grande 1340 AM. Additional in-game updates will be available on the Sporting KC Uphoria mobile app, where users will receive an offer for a free carton of Breyer's ice cream at Price Chopper. A limited number of tickets for the marquee matchup are available at SeatGeek.com as Sporting KC puts its club-record 17-game home unbeaten streak on the line.
3. Three’s Company
Three Sporting Kansas City players were named to the U.S. Men’s National Team roster on Sunday for the 2017 CONCACAF Gold Cup, scheduled for July 7-26 in 14 cities across the United States. Defenders Graham Zusi and Matt Besler boast previous CONCACAF Gold Cup experience as seasoned veterans on head coach Bruce Arena’s 23-man squad, while forward Dom Dwyer — who gained U.S. MNT eligibility when he became an American citizen March — is poised to represent the United States for the first time at the international stage.
The Americans were drawn into Group B and will face Panama (July 8), Martinique (July 12) and Nicaragua (July 15) over an eight-day period. Prior to kicking off the tournament, the U.S. will host Ghana in a tune-up friendly this Saturday inside Pratt & Whitney Stadium at Rentschler Field in East Hartford, Connecticut.
4. Get on Your Bike, Ike
In Saturday’s 2-1 victory over the LA Galaxy at StubHub Center, one Sporting Kansas City player stood out above the rest. For the fifth time in 2017, center back Ike Opara claimed his spot on MLSSoccer.com’s Team of the Week. The defender’s breathtaking bicycle kick came in at No. 1 on SportsCenter’s Top 10 Plays — a magisterial display of athleticism and skill that ultimately helped Sporting KC earn all three points. Opara’s goal is up for MLS Goal of the Week and adds to his list of MLS All-Star-worthy credentials, as he has contributed to nine shutouts in 16 starts. Click here to vote for up to eight Sporting KC players as MLS All-Stars.
5. Sweet Sixteens
The Sporting KC U-16s have punched their ticket to the U.S. Soccer Development Academy quarterfinals for the first time ever, drawing Weston FC 2-2 today to clinch first place atop Group E at Grand Park in Westfield, Indiana. The U-16s will now begin preparations for the single-game Development Academy quarterfinals, which will take place some time between July 5-7 against an opponent to be determined.
Later this afternoon, the Sporting KC U-18s’ season came to an end following a hard-fought 1-1 tie against Atlanta United FC at Grand Park. Head coach Jon Parry’s side finished third in Group B at the U-18 age level, falling short of advancing to the Development Academy quarterfinals for the second straight year.
6. Rangers Road Trippin’
Unbeaten in four straight USL matches, the Swope Park Rangers (6-4-2, 20 points) will embark on a two-game road trip this week against a pair of Western Conference foes. Tuesday's match against regional rival Tulsa Roughnecks FC (5-7-0, 15 points) will kick off at 7:30 p.m. CT at ONEOK Field in Tulsa. SPR will then travel southwest to face LA Galaxy II (3-9-2, 11 points) at 9:30 p.m. CT Friday at StubHub Center in Carson, California. Both matches will stream live on SportingKC.com.
7. King of the Court
During the month of July, a new summer series of soccer and entertainment is hitting futsal courts in Kansas City, Kansas. Sporting Kansas City will host a King of the Court Futsal Tournament every Saturday in July, featuring 4-v-4 matches for players ages 8 and up as well as a block party complete with music, yard games, skills challenges, bounce houses and Sporting KC player appearances and autograph sessions. Tournament registration is free for all teams and now open at SportingKC.com/kingofthecourt.
8. Besler’s Book
Sporting Kansas City defender Matt Besler announced last week that he has written a book titled No Other Home, available for pre-order online. The book is a collection of inspirational stories, poignant moments and life advice from the Sporting KC captain, U.S. Men’s National Team veteran and Kansas City native. FOX4KC's Jason Lamb spoke with Besler about his motivation behind writing the book, and the full interview can be viewed here.
Major League Soccer’s Week 17 slate included a whopping 15 matches from Friday to Sunday, bringing favorable results for Sporting Kansas City. The three teams immediately below the Western Conference leaders all dropped points, as the Houston Dynamo and FC Dallas played to a 1-1 draw on Friday before the Portland Timbers conceded a 94th-minute equalizer in a 2-2 stalemate with Seattle Sounders FC on Sunday. MLSsoccer.com analyst Matt Doyle shared his take on the action, including a look at the San Jose Earthquakes’ dismissal of head coach Dominic Kinnear, while SI.com’s Alexander Abnos takes us through the greatest moments of Heineken Rivalry Week.
10. Semis Set
The FIFA Confederations Cup, serving as a precursor to the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia, has reached the semifinal stage. The penultimate round of the tournament showcases a pair of mouthwatering matches, as Cristiano Ronaldo and Portugal face Alexis Sanchez and Chile at 1 p.m. CT Wednesday on FS1 before a young and uber-talented Germany side faces CONCACAF giant Mexico at 1 p.m. CT Thursday on FS2. The winners will advance to Sunday’s final at 1 p.m. CT on FS1. If you missed any of the group stage action, FIFATV has produced the perfect group stage review show.
11. Helpful Moments
Sporting Kansas City fans can visit SportingKC.com/helpful this week to cast their vote for the Westlake Ace Hardware Helpful Moment of the Month. Individuals can choose among three nominees for the month of June, with each participant receiving a $7 coupon to Westlake Ace Hardware locations in the Kansas City area. The grand prize includes a $300 Westlake gift card, a Sporting KC replica jersey and two tickets to an upcoming match at Children's Mercy Park.
Games to Watch (June 27-29)
|Tuesday, 11am||England U-21s vs. Germany U-21s||UEFA Euro U-21 Championship||ESPNU|
|Tuesday, 2pm||Spain U-21s vs. Italy U-21s||UEFA Euro U-21 Championship||ESPNU|
|Tuesday, 7:30pm||Swope Park Rangers at Tulsa Roughnecks FC||USL||SportingKC.com|
|Wednesday, 1pm||Portugal vs. Chile||FIFA Confederations Cup||FS1|
|Wednesday, 5:30pm||Sporting KC at Houston Dynamo||Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup||SportingKC.com|
|Thursday, 1pm||Germany vs. Mexico||FIFA Confederations Cup||FS2|