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. Play It On Repeat
The Swope Park Rangers were crowed Western Conference champions for the second straight year and advanced to the 2017 USL Cup Final following a remarkable penalty shootout victory over OKC Energy FC on Saturday night at Children’s Mercy Park. Heroic goalkeeper Adrian Zendejas made four saves during the 11-round shootout marathon and converted the match-winning penalty to complete his storybook evening.
Led by head coach Nikola Popovic, the Rangers have become first team in USL history to reach the league championship in consecutive seasons. SPR are also the first expansion team in the modern era of American men’s outdoor professional soccer to reach a league final in each of the club’s first two seasons.
With another Western Conference title in their trophy cabinet, the Rangers will play Louisville City FC in the 2017 USL Cup Final at 8 p.m. CT next Monday, Nov. 13 at Louisville Slugger Field in Louisville, Kentucky. The contest will air nationally on ESPNU.
2. Houston Has No Problem
Will the Houston Dynamo become the third straight team to defeat Sporting KC in the Knockout Round en route to winning MLS Cup? That possibility remained in tact on Sunday when Houston earned a 2-1 road win over the Portland Timbers, advancing to the Western Conference Championship with an aggregate victory. The Dynamo will play for a spot in MLS Cup when they battle Seattle Sounders FC over two legs, with the first meeting set for Nov. 21 in Houston and the return fixture on Nov. 30 in Seattle.
3. Sunday Bloody Sunday
Well, that escalated quickly. Despite a 1-0 home loss to the New York Red Bulls on Sunday, Toronto FC advanced to the Eastern Conference Championship on away goals following a 2-2 aggregate deadlock. The match itself, played at a rainy BMO Field, was overshadowed by an explosive halftime altercation outside the team locker rooms when Toronto’s Jozy Altidore and New York’s Sacha Kljestan were ejected from the match. Both players had received yellow cards in the first half and received their second bookings during the halftime episode, which marred the headlines after a petulant and chippy match.
4. Survive and Advance
Columbus Crew SC may have lost the battle, but they won the war. After cruising to a 4-1 win in the first leg of their Eastern Conference semifinal series with New York City FC on Tuesday, Crew SC suffered a 2-0 defeat on Sunday at Yankee Stadium but withstood a late wave of pressure to post a 4-3 aggregate victory. Columbus now advances to face Toronto FC in the Eastern Conference Championship, with leg one set for Nov. 21 in Columbus and leg two set for Nov. 29 in Toronto.
5. Sporting Scenes
A talented crew of Sporting Kansas City photographers have assembled some of the year’s best photos in one must-view photo gallery. Click here to relive some of the greatest moments of 2017 captured through the camera lens.
6. Vote Now, Vote Often
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. In addition, 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 in both polls will close at the end of Monday, Nov. 13.
7. No Other Home
Looking for some good holiday reading? Sporting KC captain Matt Besler has written a new book entitled No Other Home, a project that began 18 months ago when he started 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 on Tuesday.
8. Kids Cruise
Three Sporting KC Academy teams took the field Saturday in Colleyville, Texas for their final matches in the 2017-18 U.S. Soccer Development Academy until the regular season resumes next February. The tripleheader in suburban Dallas saw Sporting KC post a pair of victories against Solar SC at Pleasant Run Soccer Complex, with the U-19s prevailing 2-1 and the U-17s earning a 5-0 win.
9. Pulisic Shines in Defeat
Despite a standout performance from U.S. international Christian Pulisic, Borussia Dortmund stumbled to a 3-1 home loss against Bayern Munich on Saturday. The result lifts five-time reigning champion Bayern six points clear of slumping Dortmund. After watching Pulisic shine in the defeat — he was widely considered Dortmund’s best player on the night — Bayern legend Lothar Matthaus declared that the club should acquire the 19-year-old when the time comes to replace veteran wingers Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben.
10. City’s to Lose?
Manchester City extended their lead atop the English Premier League table with a commanding 3-1 win over Arsenal on Sunday. The Sky Blues, who have tied a record for the best 11-game start in Premier League history, saw their gap at the top increase when Manchester United fell 1-0 at Chelsea later in the day. As a result, Manchester United and Tottenham are tied for second on 23 points, while Chelsea sits on 22 to round out the top four. Elsewhere, Liverpool thrashed West Ham 4-1 in a result that prompted the sacking of Hammers manager Slaven Bilic, while Everton reversed a two-goal deficit for a dramatic 3-2 win.
11. Golden Bears
The Baylor Bears were crowned 2017 Big 12 Soccer Champions after knocking off TCU 2-1 in overtime on Sunday at Swope Soccer Village. As tournament winners, the Bears will receive an automatic bid the 2017 NCAA Division I Women's Soccer Championship. No. 5-seed Baylor defeated the three top-ranked teams in the Big 12 en route to the title, toppling No. 4 Texas, top-seeded Oklahoma State and No. 3 TCU to claim the program's second Big 12 Soccer Championship.