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. Do or Die Time
Sporting KC will make its seventh consecutive postseason appearance when the club travels to face rivals Houston Dynamo in the Western Conference Knockout Round of the Audi 2017 MLS Cup Playoffs on Thursday at BBVA Compass Stadium. The single-elimination, win-or-go-home match is slated for 8:30 p.m. CT, airing live on UniMas, FOX Sports Kansas City and FOX Sports Midwest as well as Sports Radio 810 WHB (English) and La Grande 1340 AM (Spanish).
As the No. 5 seed in the Western Conference, Sporting Kansas City begins its playoff campaign on the road in the Knockout Round for the fourth consecutive year. Manager Peter Vermes' men hoisted the 2017 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup last month and will aim to become the first team to win the Open Cup and MLS Cup double since the 2005 LA Galaxy. No. 4 seed Houston, meanwhile, is making its first postseason appearance since 2013 and enters the contest on a six-game unbeaten run.
2. Please Come Home
If Sporting KC wins in Houston on Thursday, the club will host the first leg of the Western Conference Semifinals on Sunday, Oct. 29 or Tuesday, Oct. 31 at Children’s Mercy Park. Sporting KC Single-game tickets for the potential home playoff match are now on sale to the general public via SeatGeek.com. The club hasn’t hosted a home playoff match since hoisting the 2013 MLS Cup in December 2013. Sporting KC’s potential opponents in the contest are the top-seeded Portland Timbers or No. 2-seed Seattle Sounders FC — the sides that upended Vermes’ men in the 2015 and 2016 Knockout Rounds, respectively, before going on to win MLS Cup.
3. Decision Day Deluge
The final day of the 2017 MLS regular season packed a potent scoring punch, as 11 matches combined for a whopping 46 goals. And although Decision Day has already come and gone, there is plenty to catch up on across the league. MLSsoccer.com's Decision Day Live show provided comprehensive analysis from Andrew Wiebe, Matt Doyle, Susannah Collins and Calen Carr, who were joined by the likes of Ali Curtis, Jeff Cassar and Sporting Legend Jimmy Conrad. Elsewhere, Simon Borg revisited the most controversial and talked-about plays in the final regular-season edition of Instant Replay.
4. Knockouts are Set
The playoff bracket is set. Now that the regular-season storm has settled, it's time for 12 MLS clubs to embark on their respective campaigns in the Audi 2017 MLS Cup Playoffs. First up are four knockout round matches, to be played this week in a one-game, single-elimination format.
On Wednesday, the Eastern Conference’s No. 3-seed Chicago Fire will host the No. 6 New York Red Bulls (FS1, UniMas). Then in the Western Conference, the No. 3 Vancouver Whitecaps FC host the No. 6 San Jose Earthquakes (MLS Live, UniMas). The following night, Eastern Conference No. 4 seed Atlanta United FC will host No. 5 Columbus Crew SC (ESPN2, UniMas), followed by the Western Conference’s No. 4 Houston Dynamo welcoming fifth-seeded Sporting KC (FOX Sports KC/Midwest, UniMas).
5. From Storms to Sunshine
The Swope Park Rangers advanced to the Western Conference Semifinals on Sunday with a pulsating penalty shootout victory over Didier Drogba and Phoenix Rising FC on Sunday afternoon at sunny Swope Soccer Village.
In a match that suspended at halftime on Saturday night due to inclement weather and resumed at the start of the second half on Sunday, Drogba nodded Phoenix ahead in the 99th minute, but Amer Didic pulled the Rangers level with a header of his own 10 minutes later. Lebo Moloto would convert the decisive spot kick in the ensuing shootout, propelling the Rangers to the next round where they will face No. 8-seed Sacramento Republic FC this Saturday night.
6. Stars in ATL
Major League Soccer announced today that Atlanta's new Mercedes-Benz Stadium will host the 2018 MLS All-Star Game. The exact date and opponent for next summer's showcase event will be determined at a later date. As an expansion club in 2017, Atlanta United FC has broken multiple MLS attendance records, averaging an all-time high 48,200 fans during the regular season and twice setting the MLS single-game attendance record, most recently reaching 71,874 on Sunday against Toronto FC.
7. Ronaldo No. 1
Real Madrid superstar Cristiano Ronaldo edged Lionel Messi and Neymar to win The Best FIFA Men's Player award for the second consecutive year, receiving the prize at The Best FIFA Football Awards ceremony in London on Monday. Real Madrid manager Zinedine Zidane was named best men's coach, Juventus' Gianluigi Buffon was tabbed best goalkeeper, and Arsenal forward Olivier Giroud won the Puskas Award for the year's best goal thanks to his acrobatic scorpion kick in an English Premier League match against Crystal Palace in January.
8. Down and Out
The United States U-17 Men's National Team bowed out of the FIFA U-17 World Cup with a 4-1 defeat to England on Saturday at Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Goa, India. St. Louis native Josh Sargent struck for the U.S. in the late stages, but a handful of earlier goals for England were enough to dash American dreams of a first-ever semifinal appearance in the U-17 World Cup.
Sporting Kansas City homegrown signing Jaylin Lindsey was sidelined for the second straight game with a concussion after starting each of the Americans' three group-stage matches, including shutout wins against India and Ghana.
9. Hey Nineteen
The Sporting KC U-19s earned a 3-1 victory over the Dallas Texans on Saturday at the University of Tulsa, improving to 4-2-0 (12 points) in the 2017-18 U.S. Soccer Development Academy. Fifteen-year-old Gianluca Busio, who signed a Homegrown Player contract with the Sporting KC senior team in August, fired the U-19s ahead with a superb free before Wilson Harris struck twice to seal the result.
The U-19 victory was the third match of a tripleheader between Sporting KC and the Dallas Texans in Tulsa, with the first two decisions going in favor of the Texas club. The Sporting KC U-15s (1-5-0, 3 points) kicked off the day with a 4-2 defeat, receiving second-half goals from Cooper Forcellini and Blake Barrick. The Sporting KC U-17s (3-3-0, 9 points) suffered an identical result, falling 4-2 despite goals in either half from Kevin Andrews and Mitch Eise.
Thanks to the Audi 2017 MLS Cup Playoffs, fans don't have to wait until March to test their bracket predictions against friends and other competitors. The Audi 2017 MLS Cup Playoffs Bracket Challenge is now open and free to enter with a variety of prizes up for grabs. Submit your bracket now for the chance to earn office bragging rights and even win a variety of major prizes.
11. Helping Hand
Sporting KC fans can visit SportingKC.com/helpful to cast their vote for the Westlake Ace Hardware Helpful Moment of the Month. Individuals can choose among three nominees for the month of October, 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 (Oct. 24-26)
|Tuesday, 1:45pm||Swansea City vs. Manchester United||English League Cup||ESPN3|
|Tuesday, 2:30pm||Real Murcia vs. Barcelona||Spanish Copa Del Rey||NBCSN|
|Tuesday, 6:30am||Brazil U-17s vs. England U-17s||FIFA U-17 World Cup||FS2|
|Tuesday, 9:30am||Mali U-17s vs. Spain U-17s||FIFA U-17 World Cup||FS2|
|Wednesday, 1:45pm||Chelsea vs. Everton||English League Cup||ESPN3|
|Wednesday, 1:45pm||Red Bull Leipzig vs. Bayern Munich||German DFB Pokal||ESPN3|
|Wednesday, 7:30pm||Chicago Fire vs. New York Red Bulls||MLS Cup Playoffs||FS1, UniMas|
|Wednesday, 9:30pm||Vancouver Whitecaps FC vs. San Jose Earthquakes||MLS Cup Playoffs||MLS Live, UniMas|
|Thursday, 6pm||Atlanta United FC vs. Columbus Crew SC||MLS Cup Playoffs||ESPN2, UniMas|
|Thursday, 8:30pm||Sporting KC at Houston Dynamo||MLS Cup Playoffs||FOX Sports KC/Midwest, UniMas|