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. Ride with the Rangers
In their second year of existence, the Swope Park Rangers are on the cusp of a second straight appearance in the USL Cup Final. Head coach Nikola Popovic’s men will hope to hoist another Western Conference championship trophy on Saturday when they host OKC Energy FC at 7:30 p.m. CT inside Children’s Mercy Park. Tickets for the Western Conference Final are available at SeatGeek.com or at the stadium box office prior to kickoff, and the match will stream live on SportingKC.com.
In the days leading up to Saturday’s showdown, SportingKC.com is offering a position-by-position look at this dynamic Rangers squad while shining the spotlight on one goalkeeper, defender, midfielder and forward. Part one and part two focus on the keepers and defenders, respectively, with Adrian Zendejas and Amer Didic among the standouts. Parts three and four will hit the website Friday.
2. When Hungary Calls
Sporting KC forward Daniel Salloi has been named to the Hungary U-21 Men’s National Team ahead of two qualifying matches for the 2019 UEFA European Under-21 Championship. Salloi and the Hungary U-21s will host Sweden on Friday, Nov. 10 at Szusza Ferenc Stadion in Budapest before traveling to face Cyprus on Tuesday, Nov. 14 at AEK Arena in Larnaca.
Salloi’s selection to the U-21 squad continues a breakout year for the 21-year-old, who finished the 2017 campaign with six goals in 27 appearances for Sporting Kansas City across all competitions. Salloi scored three times in the MLS regular season and added three more goals in Sporting KC’s run to the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup title, including the game-winning strike in the final against the New York Red Bulls on Sept. 20.
3. In the Running
Two Sporting KC players were named finalists for 2017 MLS awards on Tuesday. Tim Melia is a finalist for Allstate Goalkeeper of the Year, while center back Ike Opara is a finalist for Defender of the Year.
Major League Soccer has announced the three finalists for each of the 2017 End of Year Awards, honoring the league’s top performers during the 2017 regular season. The finalists earned the most votes in polling of three voting groups: current MLS players, MLS club staff and media members who consistently covered the league in 2017. The MLS Defender of the Year will be announced on Thursday, Nov. 9, while the Allstate MLS Goalkeeper of the Year will be named on Thursday, Nov. 16.
4. Ike Bike
Sporting KC defender Ike Opara is one of 16 nominees for the 2017 AT&T Goal of the Year. His sensational bicycle kick against the LA Galaxy proved to be the game-winner in a 2-1 victory on June 24. As mentioned above, Opara is also one of three finalists for MLS Defender of the Year after enjoying a career-best season as Sporting KC's backline anchor.
Voting for the AT&T Goal of the Year is open through the end of Monday, Nov. 13. All fans that vote may also enter the AT&T More than a Goal Sweepstakes for a chance to win either a VIP MLS Cup 2017 Experience (tickets and trip to this year's MLS Cup) or one of 10 other great prizes.
Sporting KC goalkeeper Tim Melia is one of 16 nominees for the 2017 MLS Save of the Year. His stunning finger-tip stop to deny Darlington Nagbe proved pivotal in a 1-0 victory over the Portland Timbers on April 15.
Voting for the MLS Save of the Year is open through the end of Monday, Nov. 13. As mentioned above, Melia is also one of three finalists for Allstate Goalkeeper of the Year after enjoying a fantastic season between the posts with a 0.78 goals against average, 11 shutouts and three penalty kick saves.
6. Besler’s Book
Sporting KC captain Matt Besler joined The Border Patrol hosts Steven St. John and Nate Bukaty Wednesday morning on Sports Radio 810 WHB, discussing his new book entitled No Other Home. Besler has penned his book over the last 18 months, a project that began when he began keeping a diary after suffering a concussion in March 2016. No Other Home is a themed collection of inspirational stories, poignant moments and life advice from the nine-year Sporting KC defender, who has helped the club win four major trophies in addition to competing at the FIFA World Cup for the U.S. Men's National Team. No Other Home is available for pre-order now on Amazon.com and will be released to the public next Tuesday, Nov. 7.
7. Cascadia Crap Chute
A fierce rivalry continues when Cascadia foes Seattle Sounders FC and Vancouver Whitecaps FC meet in the decisive second leg of the Western Conference Semifinals tonight on FS1 and FOX Deportes. Kickoff is set for 9:30 p.m. CT at CenturyLink Field in Seattle, with MLSsoccer.com airing 30 minutes of live pregame coverage starting at 9 p.m. on Facebook, YouTube and Periscope.
Defending MLS Cup champion Seattle holds a narrow edge going into the fixture after the clubs scrapped to a scoreless draw Sunday night in Vancouver. The Sounders will also welcome back star forward Clint Dempsey, who served a red card suspension in leg one. Another 0-0 tie would send tonight's match into extra time, while a draw involving goals would send the Whitecaps to the conference finals on away goals.
8. Rose City Rumble
The Houston Dynamo and Portland Timbers also settled for a scoreless draw in their conference semifinal first leg on Monday night. The result means leg two hangs in the balance, slated for 6:30 p.m. CT Sunday on FS1 at Providence Park in Portland.
Both teams are putting their depth to the test with key players potentially missing on both sides. Houston has consistently reshuffled its backline of late, and goalkeeper Tyler Deric has been suspended by MLS for an off-the-field matter. Portland missed midfielder Sebastian Blanco to a boiling water injury in leg one, while U.S. international Darlington Nagbe and defender Larrys Mabiala exited the match with injuries. It's worth noting that Houston has just one road win to its name this season.
9. Crew Cruise, Reds Reign
It would take a shocking result in order for Toronto FC and Columbus Crew SC to not square off in the Eastern Conference Championship. This reality comes after both teams earned first-leg victories, with Toronto prevailing 2-1 at Red Bull Arena on Monday and Crew SC thrashing New York City FC 4-1 the following night.
Second-leg matchups in both series will be televised Sunday on ESPN, with Toronto welcoming New York at 2 p.m. CT followed by the Sky Blues hosting Columbus at 4 p.m. CT.
10. Coming to Colleyville
The Sporting KC Academy continues its 2017-18 U.S. Soccer Development Academy campaign Saturday with a tripleheader at Solar Soccer Club in Colleyville, Texas. The U-15s will kick off at 10 a.m. CT, followed by the U-17s at noon and the U-19s at 2:30 p.m. Follow @SKCAcademy on Twitter for live updates this weekend and throughout the Academy season.
11. Semifinals Set at Swope
With an exciting slate of Wednesday matchups in the books, semifinal showdowns are set in the 2017 Big 12 Soccer Championship at Children's Mercy Victory Field in Swope Soccer Village. Friday's doubleheader kicks off at 4:30 p.m. CT when No. 1-seed Oklahoma State faces No. 5 Baylor. The nightcap will see No. 2 West Virginia battle No. 3 TCU at 7 p.m. CT.
Tickets for Friday's double-dip are $8, available at the Swope Soccer Village box office. A 15-ticket team pack (15 one-day passes) is also available for $100 and can be purchased by calling 888-4KC-GOAL.
Games to Watch (Nov. 2-5)
|Tonight, 9:30pm||Seattle Sounders FC vs. Vancouver Whitecaps FC||MLS Cup Playoffs||FS1|
|Friday, 2:30pm||Eintracht Frankfurt vs. Werder Bremen||German Bundesliga||FS2|
|Saturday, 11am||Angers vs. PSG||French Ligue 1||beIN SPORTS|
|Saturday, 12:30pm||Borussia Dortmund vs. Bayern Munich||German Bundesliga||FS2|
|Saturday, 12:30pm||West Ham United vs. Liverpool||English Premier League||NBC|
|Saturday, 2:45pm||Barcelona vs. Sevilla||Spanish La Liga||beIN SPORTS|
|Saturday, 7:30pm||Swope Park Rangers vs. OKC Energy FC||USL Cup Playoffs||SportingKC.com|
|Sunday, 6am||Tottenham vs. Crystal Palace||English Premier League||NBCSN|
|Sunday, 8:15am||Manchester City vs. Arsenal||English Premier League||NBCSN|
|Sunday, 10:30am||Chelsea vs. Manchester United||English Premier League||NBCSN|
|Sunday, 1:45pm||Real Madrid vs. Las Palmas||Spanish La Liga||beIN SPORTS|
|Sunday, 2pm||Toronto FC vs. New York Red Bulls||MLS Cup Playoffs||ESPN|
|Sunday, 4pm||New York City FC vs. Columbus Crew SC||MLS Cup Playoffs||ESPN|
|Sunday, 6:30pm||Portland Timbers vs. Houston Dynamo||MLS Cup Playoffs||FS1|