Starting XI: This One's For Neal

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. This One’s For Neal

Sporting Kansas City progressed to the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup semifinals with a remarkable 3-0 extra-time victory over FC Dallas on Tuesday night at Children’s Mercy Park. After playing a man down for most of regulation, Sporting KC struck three times in a wild extra session as Latif Blessing bagged a brace and Daniel Salloi added a late third to secure a spot in the semifinals against the San Jose Earthquakes. That match will take place in August, with exact date, time and location to be announced Friday.

Tuesday’s emotional triumph came two days after the passing of Sporting KC co-owner Neal Patterson, Chairman and CEO of Cerner Corporation. As an instant classic and one of the best matches to be played at Children’s Mercy Park to date, the game generated plenty of chatter across social media. Considering the monumental hill Sporting KC had to climb, there’s little surprise that the club history books were rewritten as several players delivered sterling performances.

Sporting Kansas City will return to action on Saturday, July 22 with a visit to rivals Real Salt Lake at 9 p.m. CT on FOX Sports Kansas City Plus and FOX Sports Midwest Plus.

2. Ike’s All Right
Sporting Kansas City defender Ike Opara was released from the University of Kansas Medical Center early Wednesday morning after suffering a concussion in Tuesday night's 3-0 extra-time win over FC Dallas in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup quarterfinals. Opara has been diagnosed with a concussion and will undergo concussion protocols in the coming days.

Opara suffered the injury in the 101st minute when FC Dallas’ Maxi Urruti accidentally struck Opara’s head while attempting a bicycle kick. Urruti was shown his second yellow card on the play and was consequently ejected from the match.

3. Green Light

Sporting Kansas City announced some positive news on Tuesday regarding roster flexibility. Winger Gerso and midfielder Jimmy Medranda have obtained their U.S. green cards and will no longer occupy international slots on the roster. The club now has seven international players on its current squad: Latif Blessing, Cristian Lobato, Soni Mustivar, Tyler Pasher, Diego Rubio, Daniel Salloi and Ilie. Sporting KC has one open international slot, with Major League Soccer’s secondary transfer window running until Aug. 9.

4. A Win is a Win

The U.S. Men's National Team defeated Martinique 3-2 on Wednesday night to move atop Group B of the 2017 CONCACAF Gold Cup. Omar Gonzalez opened the scoring early in the second half before Jordan Morris struck twice to seal the victory in an entertaining battle at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida. Sporting Kansas City trio Matt Besler, Dom Dwyer and Graham Zusi were unused substitutes after starting the Group B opener on Saturday against Panama.

MLSsoccer.com’s Greg Seltzer and ESPN FC’s Jason Davis both liked the performances from Morris and a few others, but saw plenty of room for improvement from a U.S. side that narrowly edged past a group of heavy underdogs. The Americans will now prepare for their Group B finale against Nicaragua on Saturday at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland, Ohio, set to kick off at 6 p.m. CT on FXX, Univision and UDN.

5. Five-Star SPR

The Swope Park Rangers (10-4-2, 32 points). continued their scintillating run of form on Wednesday afternoon, defeating Vancouver Whitecaps FC 2 by a 1-0 scoreline to notch their club-record fifth straight regular season victory. The road win also pushed SPR’s unbeaten run to eight matches, also setting a new club record. The match was decided in the 65th minute when Kevin Oliveira’s free kick was headed home by Kharlton Belmar, who moved into a tie for the team lead with his fifth goal of the campaign.

Currently occupying third place in the USL’s Western Conference, SPR will continue a three-game road trip in the Pacific Northwest on Sunday when they visit Portland Timbers 2 on Sunday at Providence Park. The match will kick off at 4 p.m. CT with a live stream on SportingKC.com.

6. Kuzain Commits

The Swope Park Rangers signed 18-year-old Wan Kuzain Wan Kamal to a full USL contract on Tuesday. Kuzain, who inked an Academy contract with the SPR at the start of 2017, has now signed a full professional contract with the club. The midfielder had previously committed to play college soccer at the University of Akron and will now forgo his NCAA eligibility to pursue a professional career in Kansas City.

7. Futsal Frenzy

Sporting Kansas City will host two King of the Court futsal tournaments on Saturday, with one taking place at Highland Park in Kansas City, Kansas (4700 Shawnee Dr.) and another kicking off at St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Overland Park, Kansas (11411 Pflumm Rd.). Both tournaments will be held separately, 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 at each location is free for all teams at SportingKC.com/kingofthecourt.

8. Besler on the Border

Sporting KC defender Matt Besler joined Sports Radio 810's Steven St. John and Nate Bukaty on Wednesday. The Sporting KC captain has joined teammates Dom Dwyer and Graham Zusi on the U.S. Men’s National Team for the CONCACAF Gold Cup, which runs through July 26. In addition to discussing the continental tournament, Besler also discussed Sporting KC's dramatic 3-0 victory over FC Dallas on Tuesday in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup quarterfinals. Click here to listen to the full video.

9. Seeking the Semis

As mentioned above, Sporting Kansas City will lock horns with the San Jose Earthquakes in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup semifinals next month. That Quakes dispatched LA Galaxy by a 3-2 scoreline in an exciting California Clasico on Monday, receiving a brace from Chris Wondolowski and a game-winner from Danny Hoesen at Avaya Stadium.

The opposite side of the bracket is still up in the air. The highly anticipated quarterfinal between the NASL’s Miami FC and the USL’s FC Cincinnati was scheduled for Wednesday night, but strong thunderstorms in the Miami area postponed the match. Whoever wins that showdown — set to become the first lower-division club to reach the Open Cup semifinals since 2011 — will face the winner of tonight’s quarterfinal between the New England Revolution and the New York Red Bulls, which will kick off at 6:30 p.m. CT at Jordan Field in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

10. Nashville Next?

After attending last Saturday’s CONCACAF Gold Cup match between the United States and Panama, MLSsoccer.com’s Arielle Castillo reported that Nashville’s growing soccer scene demonstrates that the city is ready to welcome an MLS expansion team in the near future. As Nashville Scene reports, the Music City is keen to bring MLS to a place that has experienced significant cultural and economic growth over the last several years. Saturday’s Gold Cup contest drew 47,622 fans at Nissan Stadium, home of the NFL’s Tennessee Titans, providing a strong indicator for the city’s soccer appetite.

11. Select Your Sausage

Sporting KC fans can cast their votes for the Klement’s Sporting Sausage creation that will be sold in Children’s Mercy Park from Aug. 6 through the end of the season. Each entry will receive a Klement’s coupon in the mail prior to the contest’s conclusion. A grand prize will include a year supply of Klement’s products, a $50 Price Chopper gift card, two match tickets to a Sporting Kansas City match, a team-signed soccer ball and the opportunity to watch warm-ups from the field level at Children’s Mercy Park. Visit SportingKC.com/Klements for more information and to vote.

Games to Watch (July 14-17)

DATE/TIME (CT) GAME COMPETITION CHANNEL
Friday, 6:30pm Costa Rica vs. French Guiana CONCACAF Gold Cup FS1, UDN
Friday, 9pm Canada vs. Honduras CONCACAF Gold Cup FS1, UDN
Saturday, 3:30pm Panama vs. Martinique CONCACAF Gold Cup FS2, UDN
Saturday, 6pm USA (Besler, Dwyer, Zusi) vs. Nicaragua CONCACAF Gold Cup FXX, Univision, UDN
Saturday, 9pm LA Galaxy vs. Manchester United Club Friendly ESPN2, ESPN Deportes
Sunday, 4pm Swope Park Rangers at Portland Timbers 2 USL SportingKC.com
Sunday, 5pm Jamaica vs. El Salvador CONCACAF Gold Cup FS2, UDN
Sunday, 7:30pm Mexico vs. Curacao CONCACAF Gold Cup FS1, Univision, UDN
Monday, 9pm Real Salt Lake vs. Manchester United Club Friendly ESPN2, ESPN Deportes
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