Starting XI - Nov. 9, 2017

Starting XI: Ike to the Top

Starting XI, presented by Ford, is a biweekly series on 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. Ike to the Top

Sporting KC center back Ike Opara was named the 2017 MLS Defender of the Year on Thursday, receiving the honor for the first time in his career after enjoying a phenomenal season along the backline. Opara, a colossal linchpin for Major League Soccer’s best defense throughout the 2017 campaign, becomes the fourth Kansas City player to earn MLS Defender of the Year accolades, joining his current teammate Matt Besler (2012), his current manager Peter Vermes (2000) and Sporting Legend Jimmy Conrad (2005).

2. Countdown to USL Cup

For the second straight year, the Swope Park Rangers are on the precipice of USL Cup glory. The back-to-back Western Conference champions advanced to this exact stage in 2016, only to fall short of a league title in their inaugural season. With unfinished business still at hand, the Rangers will travel to face Louisville City in the 2017 USL Cup Final on Monday, airing live nationally at 8 p.m. CT on ESPNU.

During the week leading up to the championship match, is visiting seven relevant storylines surrounding the biggest game of the United Soccer League season. In Part Four, SPR forward Kharlton Belmar takes center stage as he aims to reach a historic goal scoring landmark in Louisville.

3. Super Saturday Sale

All Sporting KC supporters are invited to the SportingStyle Friends + Family Holiday Presale on Saturday at the Boulevard Members Club inside Children's Mercy Park. The biggest SportingStyle sale of 2017 will run from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. CT, with an incredible variety of discounted Sporting KC merchandise available for purchase. All fans planning to attend Saturday's event can click here to RSVP.

4. The Truce is Open

In celebration of a long-standing Boxing Day tradition, Sporting KC, the National World War I Museum and Memorial and The Soccer Lot will host The Truce 3v3 Soccer Tournament on Tuesday, Dec. 26. The fifth annual Truce Tournament will take place on scenic Liberty Hill with early bird pricing available to teams who sign up by Nov. 27. Recreational, Competitive and Beer divisions are available for entry, and all teams are guaranteed three games. Click here to register a team.

5. Young Guns

The 2017 season saw Sporting KC get a lot younger in multiple positions, particularly up top with the likes of 20-year-old Latif Blessing and 21-year-old Daniel Salloi contributing six goals apiece in all competitions. Both players were recognized for their performances by on Wednesday, receiving honorable mention on for the website’s 2017 MLS U-21 Best XI.

6. Daniel Deployed

Sporting KC forward Daniel Salloi has joined 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 at Szusza Ferenc Stadion in Budapest before traveling to face Cyprus next 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.

7. Besler’s Book

Lend us your eyes for a holiday reading recommendation. 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 to order now on and in bookstores across Kansas City.

8. Friedel Revved Up

The New England Revolution appointed former U.S. Men’s National Team goalkeeper Brad Friedel as the club’s new head coach on Thursday. Friedel, a longtime player in MLS and across Europe, most recently served as head coach of the U.S. U-19 men’s national team. The Revolution missed the playoffs for the second straight year in 2017, and their late-season dip prompted the dismissal of head coach Jay Heaps.

9. Nashville Makes Noise

Could Nashville be joining the MLS party in the near future? It would certainly appear that way, as the Nashville Metro Council on Tuesday voted to approve the financing plan for a $275 million potential MLS stadium on the city’s fairgrounds. Nashville was one of 12 cities to submit an expansion application to Major League Soccer in January. The league has stated it will select two new expansion teams next month from the group of applicants, with two more to follow at a later date.

10. A New Era?

Interim U.S. Men’s National Team head coach Dave Sarachan named his 21-man roster on Tuesday for an international friendly at Portugal next Tuesday, which will kick off at 2:45 p.m. CT on FS1, UniMas and UDN. The youthful roster features inclusions from ex-Sporting KC forwards Dom Dwyer and C.J. Sapong as well as the likes of Weston McKennie, Lynden Gooch, Danny Williams, Matt Miazga and Cameron Carter-Vickers — all of whom ply their trades in Europe.

11. Playoffs!?

That’s right, playoffs. The coming week will see several national teams compete in two-legged playoffs with World Cup berths on the line. The losers will spend next summer at home, while the winner will punch their tickets to the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia. Among the most mouthwatering playoff ties are four-time World Cup champion Italy vs. Sweden, Honduras vs. Australia and Denmark vs. Ireland. All matchups will take place between now and Tuesday, rounding out the field of 32 for next summer’s World Cup.

Games to Watch (Nov. 10-12)

Friday, 11am South Africa vs. Senegal World Cup Qualifying beIN SPORTS
Friday, 1:45pm Sweden vs. Italy World Cup Qualifying FS1
Friday, 1:45pm Belgium vs. Mexico International Friendly UniMas, UDN
Friday, 2pm England vs. Germany International Friendly FS2
Saturday, 11:30am Ivory Coast vs. Morocco World Cup Qualifying beIN SPORTS
Saturday, 1:45pm Denmark vs. Ireland World Cup Qualifying FS2
Sunday, 9:30am Ghana vs. Egypt World Cup Qualifying beIN SPORTS
Sunday, 11am Switzerland vs. Northern Ireland World Cup Qualifying ESPN3
Sunday, 1:45pm Greece vs. Croatia World Cup Qualifying ESPN3