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. Dueling the Dynamo
The Western Conference race heats up Saturday night when co-leaders Sporting Kansas City (10-5-10, 40 points) travel south to face third-place Houston Dynamo (10-8-8, 38 points) at BBVA Compass Stadium. The first MLS meeting between the rivals this season will kick off at 8 p.m. CT on FOX Sports Kansas City, FOX Sports Kansas City Plus and FOX Sports Midwest Plus, while radio calls will air on ESPN 99.3 FM (English) and La Grande 1340 AM (Spanish).
Sporting KC and Houston last met at BBVA Compass Stadium on June 28 when the visitors used goals from Ike Opara and Gerso to win 2-0 in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup Round of 16. Houston, however, boasts a 9-0-3 home record in MLS and battled back from two goals down to rescue a thrilling 3-3 draw at FC Dallas on Wednesday night.
2. Rock the Party
No Other Pub in the Kansas City Power & Light District will host Saturday’s official watch party, offering $6 Till Vodka cocktails and an all-you-can eat buffet with bottomless domestic draft beers and soda. Watch party specials begin at 7:30 p.m. CT and will remain active through the end of the match.
3. Summer Sale
All Sporting Kansas City fans are welcome to attend the limited-time End of Summer Sale this Saturday at the Boulevard Members Club inside Children’s Mercy Park. From 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. CT, all full-priced merchandise will be listed at 30 percent off, while select items will be available at up to 50 percent off. Supporters can sign up to attend the sale by visiting SportingKC.com/summersale.
4. Soony Strikes
Soony Saad marked his first appearance for the Swope Park Rangers with a goal in Wednesday’s exciting 2-2 draw at Sacramento Republic FC. The Rangers (12-5-6, 41 points) received an early strike from Saad and a 68th-minute goal from the team’s leading scorer Kharlton Belmar, but Sacramento (10-7-5, 35 points) equalized in both halves through Emrah Klimenta and Tyler Blackwood to salvage a draw at Papa Murphy’s Park.
The third-place Rangers remain on the road Saturday when they visit fourth-place Reno 1868 (11-5-6, 39 points) — the USL’s highest-scoring team — in a mouthwatering matchup at Greater Nevada Field. Kickoff is slated for 9:30 p.m. CT with a live stream on SportingKC.com.
5. Radio Hits
Center back Matt Besler and striker Diego Rubio played key roles in Saturday's 2-0 win over FC Dallas as Sporting Kansas City remained tied atop the Western Conference. Besler anchored another resolute defensive effort en route to the team's MLS-best 10th shutout of 2017, while Rubio buried a superb volley to tally his third goal since the start of July. Both players appeared on Sports Radio 810 WHB this week to discuss Sporting Kansas City's victory along with several off-the-field topics. Click here to listen to both interviews in their entirety below, including the full episode of Tuesday's Sporting KC Show.
6. Save the Dates
MLS announced Wednesday that the 2017 MLS Cup will be played on Saturday, Dec. 9 at 3 p.m. CT, hosted by the finalist with the best regular season record. The league’s 22nd annual championship game will air live in the U.S. on ESPN and UniMás, in Canada on TSN and TVA Sports, and across more than 170 countries worldwide.
MLS also confirmed dates for the Audi 2017 MLS Cup Playoffs, with postseason action kicking off October 25-26 following the close of regular season play on Sunday, Oct. 22. All games in the Audi 2017 MLS Cup Playoffs will be broadcast nationally across the league’s domestic partners FS1, ESPN and UniMás, with TSN and TVA Sports networks transmitting the games in Canada. Following the same playoff competition format implemented in 2015, the top six teams in the Eastern and Western Conferences will qualify for the Audi 2017 MLS Cup Playoffs.
7. Wacky Wednesday
MLS fans were greeted to a whopping seven matches on Wendesday night, of which many held particular relevance to Sporting Kansas City as the Western Conference playoff picture continues to take shape. Seattle Sounders FC entered the night as co-leaders with Manager Peter Vermes’ men, but were only able to emerge with a 1-1 draw at 10-man Vancouver Whitecaps FC. The Portland Timbers drew level on 40 points with Sporting KC after topping the Colorado Rapids 2-1, while FC Dallas and the Houston Dynamo played to a pulsating 3-3 draw at Toyota Stadium. Elsewhere, the LA Galaxy and San Jose Earthquakes endured lopsided road defeats to fall even further below the red line.
8. Renew the Rivalries
Another edition of Heineken Rivalry Week sweeps MLS this weekend, featuring three nationally televised matches to go along with Sporting Kansas City’s battle against the Houston Dynamo on Saturday. Friday night serves up the newest chapter of the New York Derby, as the Red Bulls host New York City FC at 6 p.m. CT on ESPN. A scintillating Soccer Sunday will then treat a national audience to a tripleheader, with in-form Montreal Impact hosting red-hot Toronto FC at 3:30 p.m. to kick off the slate. Cali Clasico pits two desperate teams as the LA Galaxy welcome the San Jose Earthquakes at 6 p.m. in the first game of an FS1 double-dip, followed by the heralded Cascadia clash between Seattle Sounders FC and the Portland Timbers at 8:30 p.m.
9. Divide and Conquer
The group stage draw for the 2017-18 UEFA Champions League took place today at the Grimaldi Forum in Monaco, separating 32 participants into eight groups of four. Reigning champions Real Madrid will face Borussia Dortmund and Tottenham in one of the more difficult groups, while English clubs Manchester United, Manchester City and Liverpool were handed more navigable paths to the knockout stages. Group stage action will run from September to December, and the top two teams from each group will advance to the knockout stages commencing next February.
10. Zlatan Remains a Red Devil
Manchester United announced today that the club has signed forward Zlatan Ibrahimovic to a new, one-year deal. The Swedish star suffered a season-ending knee ligament injury in April and was subsequently released by Man United, raising speculation that Ibrahimovic would move to Major League Soccer at the start of 2018.
11. Transfer Chatter
Two gigantic transfers are on the brink of fruition in Europe. FC Barcelona hoping to sign Ousmane Dembele from Borussia Dortmund for upwards of $175 million, while Paris-St. Germain hopes to continue its lavish spending spree with the $164-million acquisition of Kylian Mbappe from AS Monaco. Dembele and Mbappe are French starlets aged 20 and 18, respectively, and both could make moves that would become the second and third most expensive transfers ever. Earlier this month PSG signed Brazilian star Neymar from Barcelona for a world-record $262 million.
Games to Watch (Aug. 25-27)
|Friday, 1:45pm||PSG vs. Saint-Etienne||French Ligue 1||beIN SPORTS|
|Friday, 6pm||New York Red Bulls vs. New York City FC||MLS||ESPN|
|Saturday, 6:30am||Bournemouth vs. Manchester City||English Premier League||NBCSN|
|Saturday, 8:30am||Werder Bremen vs. Bayern Munich||German Bundesliga||FS1|
|Saturday, 11:15am||Alaves vs. Barcelona||Spanish La Liga||beIN SPORTS|
|Saturday, 11:30am||Manchester United vs. Leicester City||English Premier League||NBCSN|
|Saturday, 11:30am||Borussia Dortmund vs. Hertha Berlin||German Bundesliga||FS1|
|Saturday, 8pm||Sporting KC at Houston Dynamo||MLS||FSKC, FSKC+,
FS Midwest Plus
|Saturday, 9:30pm||Swope Park Rangers at Reno 1868 FC||USL||SportingKC.com|
|Sunday, 7:30pm||Chelsea vs. Everton||English Premier League||CNBC|
|Sunday, 10am||Liverpool vs. Arsenal||English Premier League||NBCSN|
|Sunday, 3:15pm||Real Madrid vs. Valencia||Spanish La Liga||beIN SPORTS|
|Sunday, 3:30pm||Montreal Impact vs. Toronto FC||MLS||ESPN|
|Sunday, 6pm||LA Galaxy vs. San Jose Earthquakes||MLS||FS1|
|Sunday, 8:30pm||Seattle Sounders FC vs. Portland Timbers||MLS||FS1|