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. Diego at the Double
Sporting Kansas City used a comprehensive 3-1 victory over the New England Revolution on Saturday night to move within a point of first place in the Western Conference. New England (10-14-5, 35 points) grabbed an early lead through Teal Bunbury, but Sporting KC (11-6-11, 44 points) responded with three consecutive goals at sold-out Children’s Mercy Park — one from Gerso and two from Diego Rubio — to extend their club-record home unbeaten run to 23 regular season matches, tied for the third-longest such streak in MLS history.
Currently tied for second in Major League Soccer's Western Conference with the Portland Timbers and Seattle Sounders FC, Sporting KC will continue their regular season campaign Sunday at Children's Mercy Park against the LA Galaxy before hosting first-place Vancouver Whitecaps FC on Sept. 30 to round out the month.
The national spotlight will shine on Children’s Mercy Park this Wednesday as Sporting KC and the New York Red Bulls meet in the 2017 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup Final, U.S. Soccer's National Championship. The highly anticipated encounter will kick off at 8 p.m. CT, airing live on ESPN2, ESPN Deportes, Sports Radio 810 WHB (English) and La Grande 1340 AM (Spanish). The Sporting KC Uphoria app will provide additional live updates, and The Final Whistle postgame show will air immediately after the match on 810 WHB.
The winner of Wednesday's Open Cup Final will receive $250,000 in prize money and a berth in the 2019 CONCACAF Champions League. Sporting KC is seeking their third Open Cup title since 2012 and their fourth overall, which would tie a record for most Open Cup championships among MLS teams. The Red Bulls are playing for their first Open Cup crown and will make their first final appearance since 2003.
3. Party on the Block
All Sporting KC supporters are invited to attend the U.S. Open Cup Fan Rally on Tuesday at the Kansas City Live! Block in the Power & Light District. The U.S. Open Cup Fan Rally is free and open to fans of all ages, with festivities set to begin at 6:30 p.m. CT. Supporters who RSVP to the event at SportingKC.com/rsvp will be entered to win an exclusive prize package. Hosts Hartzell Gray, Nate Bukaty and Jillian Carroll will emcee the event on the KC Live! Block stage. The rally will kick off with a variety of fan games, prize giveaways, music from DJ G-Train and Sporting KC Open Cup highlights. Sports Radio 810 WHB, the official radio partner of Sporting KC, will also broadcast live on-site.
4. For the Glory of the City
Two days prior to the 2017 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup Final, Sporting KC captain Matt Besler has penned a poignant letter to supporters as excitement and anticipation for the match builds. "Wednesday night is our biggest match of the season thus far," Besler writes. "This is when we have another opportunity to paint the wall. This is when you will remind the country where the best fans in Major League Soccer reside." Click here to read the full letter.
5. Pro Pipeline
Sporting KC announced on Friday the signing of forward Kharlton Belmar and midfielder Kevin Oliveira from USL affiliate Swope Park Rangers. Belmar has signed a contract through 2017 with options for 2018, 2019 and 2020, while Oliveira has signed a contract through 2017 with options for 2018 and 2019. As a native of Cape Verde, Oliveira occupies an international spot on Sporting KC's roster.
Belmar, 24, has scored 11 times for the Swope Park Rangers in 2017, setting a club record for most goals in a single regular season. Oliveira, 21, joined the Swope Park Rangers ahead of their inaugural season in 2016. He has totaled six goals and 10 assists in 29 USL career appearances for the club, including three goals and a team-best six assists this year. Belmar and Oliveira are the fifth and sixth players to ink Sporting KC contracts from the Rangers over the last 10 months, following Tyler Pasher, Adrian Zendejas, Amer Didic and James Musa.
6. Up to Second
Week 28 of the MLS regular season yielded favorable results for Sporting KC. In addition to defeating New England by a 3-1 scoreline, the club saw their nearest Western Conference rivals drop points. First-place Vancouver Whitecaps FC rescued a 2-2 home draw with Columbus, Seattle Sounders FC were held to a scoreless draw at FC Dallas, and the Portland Timbers suffered a 2-1 setback at Real Salt Lake. Consequently, the top four places in the West are separated by a single point, with Vancouver at 45 points and Sporting KC, Seattle and Portland all on 44. The curious complexion of the wild west was examined on Sunday by MLSsoccer.com analyst Matt Doyle.
7. Rampant Rangers
The Swope Park Rangers (14-7-6, 48 points) delivered their most impressive performance of the season on Sunday, posting an emphatic 5-2 victory over a second-place San Antonio FC side (14-3-10, 52 points) that had entered the contest with just two losses and 15 goals conceded through 26 games. Three Sporting KC Academy products found the back of the net, including a brace from 20-year-old striker Nansel Selbol, a first professional goal for 17-year-old Max Rugova and a long-range free kick from 19-year-old Felipe Hernandez. In addition, Kharlton Belmar moved up to sixth on the USL scoring chart with his 11th goal of the campaign just two days after signing with Sporting KC.
Currently occupying fourth place in the Western Conference, the Rangers will travel west this weekend for a matchup with Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC (9-11-8, 35 points) at Weidner Field. Kickoff is slated for 7 p.m. CT Saturday with a live stream on SportingKC.com.
8. Busio Banger
Saturday marked the start of the 2017-18 U.S. Soccer Development Academy campaign for the Sporting KC U-19s, U-17s and U-15s, who played a tripleheader against national powerhouse FC Dallas on Saturday at the University of Tulsa. While the U-17s and U-15s suffered defeats earlier in the day, the U-19s recorded a momentous 2-1 victory over FC Dallas to open the new season in style.
The U-19s pieced together an excellent first-half display, taking the lead in the 19th minute when Grayson Barber's clipped ball over the top fell neatly to Wilson Harris, whose well-struck volley nestled into the corner of the net. Eight minutes later, Sporting KC doubled their advantage behind a goal from 15-year-old Gianluca Busio, who last month became the second-youngest player to sign an MLS contract in league history.
9. Cover Boy
Ready to rep a Sporting KC and U.S. Men's National Team veteran? Click here to vote for Graham Zusi to appear on the downloadable MLS FIFA 18 custom cover. The top four players receiving votes will be added to the cover. You can vote as many times as you want. Voting ends at this Friday at 10:59 p.m. CT.
10. Back to Camp
Sporting KC’s newest Homegrown Player is set for international duty once again. Defender Jaylin Lindsey, who signed a Homegrown contract with Sporting KC last Thursday, will join the U.S. U-17 Men’s National Team for a six-day training camp at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida that runs Tuesday through Sunday. The camp will consist of 23 players and serve as head coach John Hackworth’s final opportunity to assess U-17 player pool before deciding on a final 21-man roster for the FIFA U-17 World Cup, which takes place from Oct. 6-28 in India.
11. Get 'Em While They're Hot
Single-game tickets for all Sporting KC regular season home matches in 2017 at state-of-the-art Children's Mercy Park are on sale to the general public at SeatGeek.com, while away ticket requests are open for games at Minnesota United FC on Oct. 7 and Real Salt Lake on Oct. 22. Visit SportingKC.com/awaytickets for easy navigation, and call 888-4KC-GOAL for more ticket information.
Sporting KC is currently amidst a club-record home unbeaten run of 23 consecutive MLS regular season matches dating back to June 19, 2016. That streak is tied for the third-longest in league history.
Games to Watch (Sept. 19-20)
|Tuesday, 1:30pm||Schalke vs. Bayern Munich||German Bundesliga||FS1|
|Tuesday, 3pm||Barcelona vs. Eibar||Spanish La Liga||beIN SPORTS|
|Wednesday, 1:30pm||Hamburg vs. Borussia Dortmund||German Bundesliga||FS1|
|Wednesday, 3pm||Real Madrid vs. Real Betis||Spanish La Liga||beIN SPORTS|
|Wednesday, 6pm||Atlanta United FC vs. LA Galaxy||MLS||ESPN2, ESPN Deportes|
|Wednesday, 8pm||Sporting KC vs. New York Red Bulls||Open Cup Final||ESPN2, ESPN Deportes|