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. Close to Clinching
Sporting KC's push to the postseason continues Saturday when the club visits Minnesota United FC at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, kicking off at 7 p.m. CT on FOX Sports Kansas City, FOX Sports Midwest and FOX Sports GO. A victory this weekend would guarantee Sporting KC a club-record seventh straight appearance in the MLS Cup Playoffs, which will begin Oct. 25 and culminate with the 2017 MLS Cup on Dec. 9.
Manager Peter Vermes' men (12-7-11, 47 points) are currently in a three-way tie for second place in the Western Conference, but have two games in hand on both Seattle Sounders FC and Portland Timbers. Minnesota United FC, meanwhile, sits seven points below the playoff line but have scored 13 goals over their last four games — an impressive stretch that includes three wins. The Loons (10-16-5, 35 points) are coming off a 3-2 victory at high-flying Atlanta United FC on Tuesday.
All Sporting KC supporters are welcome to attend the official #MINvSKC watch party at No Other Pub in the Kansas City Power & Light District (1370 Grand Blvd.), featuring a variety of drink specials and an all-you-can-eat buffet with bottomless domestic draft beer.
2. Point of No Return
Matt Besler, Benny Feilhaber and Graham Zusi are with the U.S. Men’s National Team for the country’s final two World Cup qualifying matches in CONCACAF’s Hexagonal. All three players will be in contention to feature in Friday’s pivotal showdown against Panama, kicking off at 6 p.m. CT inside Orlando City Stadium on ESPN2, Univision and UDN.
The U.S. MNT currently occupies fourth place in the Hexagonal standings, one point behind Friday’s opponent Panama. The top three finishers will advance automatically to the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia next summer, while the fourth-place team will face either Australia or Syria in a two-legged World Cup playoff in November. Wins over Panama and Trinidad & Tobago would ensure the U.S. a top-three finish and an eighth consecutive World Cup appearance.
|Trinidad and Tobago||3||1||7||0||4||15||-11|
3. Dreams of 2026
The United Bid Committee announced Wednesday that Kansas City is among the 32 cities across North America that could serve as Official Host Cities for the 2026 FIFA World Cup. The 32 potential host cities include four cities in Canada, three in Mexico and 25 cities in the U.S.
Representatives from the 32 potential host cities will travel to Houston during the week of Nov. 13 for a working session with the United Bid Committee team. The shared bid between the U.S.. Canada and Mexico is going up against a bid from Morocco for the rights to host the 2026 FIFA World Cup. The winning bid will be selected by the FIFA Congress on June 13, 2018.
4. Pitch Black
Voting is now open for Sporting Kansas City’s 2017 team awards, to be presented at the club’s Pitch Black celebration on Friday, Oct. 13 at Children’s Mercy Park. Media and fans can cast their online ballots through Monday, Oct. 9. All proceeds from the 2017 Pitch Black celebration will go to The Victory Project, the philanthropic arm of Sporting KC that helps children and families afflicted by pediatric cancer. For more information, visit VictoryKC.org/PitchBlack.
5. Eyes of the World
A banner year for Jaylin Lindsey is about to become even more profound. The 17-year-old defender, who signed a Homegrown contract with Sporting Kansas City last month, has joined the U.S. U-17 Men’s National Team for the FIFA U-17 World Cup in India. The biennial tournament raises its curtains Friday when the Americans face hosts India in New Delhi, kicking off at 9:30 a.m. CT on FS2 and Universo.
Lindsey has been a vital cog along for the U.S. throughout the year, serving as a right back under U-17 head coach John Hackworth. Having earned 2017 CONCACAF U-17 Championship Best XI honors in May after helping the team to a second-place finish, the Sporting KC Academy product is seeking similar success on the world stage as 24 countries descend on India for a competition that runs through Oct. 28.
6. Moose is Loose
Sporting KC midfielder James Musa and the New Zealand Men's National Team travel to face Japan in a friendly on Friday, serving as the All Whites' lone tune-up ahead of their two-legged World Cup playoff in November. Friday's matchup at Toyota Stadium will kick off at 5:20 a.m. CT with live updates available on Twitter at @NZ_Football. Musa will be in contention for his fourth career cap and his third since returning to New Zealand's squad in August after a three-year absence.
The All-Whites cruised to an 8-3 aggregate victory over Solomon Islands last month to win the OFC Final and advance to a World Cup playoff against the fifth-place finisher from the South American qualifying region. That series will be decided over two legs, to be played Nov. 6 and 10, and New Zealand's opponent will be determined Tuesday when CONMEBOL qualifying concludes.
7. Island Hopping
Sporting KC midfielder Kevin Oliveira has never played for Cape Verde at the senior international level. And Cape Verde has never qualified for the FIFA World Cup. Needless to say, the 21-year-old is hoping to change that over the next month.
Oliveira was named to the Cape Verde national team last week for Saturday's pivotal World Cup qualifier against heavy favorite Senegal. Kickoff is slated for 12:30 p.m. CT in the Cape Verdean capital of Praia. The fixture represents an opportunity for Oliveira to earn his first senior cap, having previously represented the African island nation at the U-16 level in 2012. It's also a chance for Cape Verde to take a major step toward qualifying for the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia.
8. Race for Second
Led by head coach Nikola Popovic, the Swope Park Rangers (16-7-7, 55 points) will visit OKC Energy FC (12-11-7, 43 points) in the penultimate match of their regular season campaign, slated for 5 p.m. CT Sunday at Taft Stadium in Oklahoma City. The contest will stream live on SportingKC.com.
SPR enters the matchup in a three-way tie for second place in the USL’s Western Conference. If results fall their way this weekend, the Rangers could seal a top-four finish in the West and a home game in the opening round of the USL Cup Playoffs, slated for Oct. 20-22. Forward Kharlton Belmar, on loan from Sporting KC, has led the side in recent weeks with goals in five straight games and was named to the USL Team of the Week on Tuesday.
9. Plant the Flag
Sporting KC announced Thursday that Assistant Technical Director Mike Jacobs has accepted a new post as the Technical Director and Vice President of Soccer Operations at Nashville SC, a professional club that will debut in the United Soccer League in 2018.
10. Stars of Tomorrow
Swope Soccer Village and the Sporting KC Academy will host 2017-18 Generation adidas Cup West Region qualifying matches this weekend, showcasing Major League Soccer's best youth talent from the U-15 and U-17 levels.
The Sporting KC U-17s will play three qualifying matches this weekend, while the U-15s will play three friendlies against other U-15 academy sides as part of a GA Cup test run for the U-15 age group. Other participating U-17 clubs include LA Galaxy, Portland Timbers, Real Salt Lake, San Jose Earthquakes and Seattle Sounders FC. The U-15 division will include LA, Portland, Real Salt Lake, San Jose and the Houston Dynamo. Click here for the full schedule.
11. Others in Action
Sporting KC and Minnesota will go head-to-head in one of three MLS matches on Saturday. At 4 p.m. CT, a huge interconference matchup will kick off at Red Bull Arena when Western Conference leaders Vancouver Whitecaps FC duel a New York side that is hoping to clinch a playoff berth. That game will stream in English on the Univision Deportes Facebook page. The 8 p.m. nightcap will see the all-but-eliminated Colorado Rapids host FC Dallas, who are level on points with Real Salt Lake and San Jose for the final playoff spot in the West.
Games to Watch (Oct. 6-9)
|Friday, 9:30am||USA U-17s (Jaylin Lindsey) vs. India U-17s||FIFA U-17 World Cup||FS2, Universo|
|Friday, 6pm||USA (Besler, Feilhaber, Zusi) vs. Panama||World Cup Qualifying||ESPN2, Univision, UDN|
|Friday, 8:30pm||Mexico vs. Trinidad & Tobago||World Cup Qualifying||FS1, Univision, UDN|
|Friday, 9pm||Costa Rica vs. Honduras||World Cup Qualifying||beIN SPORTS, Universo|
|Saturday, 1:45pm||Bulgaria vs. France||World Cup Qualifying||FS2|
|Saturday, 4pm||New York Red Bulls vs. Vancouver Whitecaps FC||MLS||Facebook Live, UniMas|
|Saturday, 7pm||Sporting KC at Minnesota United FC||MLS||FSKC, FS Midwest|
|Sunday, 11am||Lithuania vs. England||World Cup Qualifying||FS1|
|Sunday, 5pm||Swope Park Rangers at OKC Energy FC||USL||SportingKC.com|
|Monday, 6:30am||USA U-17s (Jaylin Lindsey) vs. Ghana U-17s||FIFA U-17 World Cup||FS2, Universo|
|Monday, 1:45pm||Wales vs. Ireland||World Cup Qualifying||FS2|