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. Model of Consistency
The 2017 campaign saw Sporting KC goalkeeper Tim Melia continue his meteoric rise. The 31-year-old ultimately attained Allstate MLS Goalkeeper of the Year honors after spending the first five seasons of his professional career as a backup or league pool goalkeeper. Needless to say, Melia's career arch is unconventional, and the high points he has experienced in recent seasons were made possible by a special combination of fortitude, belief and consistency in his approach. SportingKC.com's feature story on Melia is a must-read, shedding light on what makes Melia so unique and, after years of patience, so successful.
2. Indispensable Ilie
In a year where several newcomers took Major League Soccer by storm, few were more effective than Sporting KC's own Ilie. The 26-year-old holding midfielder was recognized for his stellar season on Sunday, landing a spot on Goal.com's MLS All-Newcomer Best XI. The lineup is adorned by a quartet of Atlanta United FC players, with Ilie joining a midfield of Alexander Ring (New York City FC), Miguel Almiron (Atlanta), Victor Vazquez (Toronto FC) and Romain Alessandrini (LA Galaxy).
3. Captain’s Corner
Sporting KC captain Matt Besler joined Sports Radio 810 WHB on Friday for a compelling discussion with Soren Petro on The Program, sharing his thoughts on the state of the U.S. Men's National Team, the club's reaction to the Dom Dwyer trade back in July, and why he decided to write his new book. No Other Home is available in book stores throughout the city and online at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.
4. Popovic Departs
The Swope Park Rangers and head coach Nikola Popovic have mutually agreed to part ways, the club announced on Friday. In his lone season as head coach, Popovic helped lead the Rangers to a fourth-place finish in the Western Conference. After emerging as conference champions, SPR fell just short of the league title with a 1-0 loss at Louisville City FC on Monday. Popovic’s 58 points through his first 32 regular-season games as a head coach were third-most in USL history.
5. Kitman Sale
All Sporting KC supporters are invited to the highly anticipated Kitman Sale this Friday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. at the SportingStyle Pop-In Store inside Children's Mercy Park. A wide variety of authentic, autographed and game-worn merchandise will be available for purchase, including player jerseys, cleats and game balls that were used throughout the 2017 season. In addition, full-priced merchandise will be marked at 25 percent off with up to 50 percent off sale items.
6. Young Studs
Sporting KC Homegrown defender Jaylin Lindsey and Academy midfielder Grayson Barber have been named to the United Soccer Coaches Youth Boys All-America Team. Lindsey, who signed a Homegrown contract with Sporting KC in September that will begin on January 1, 2018, has spent the majority of 2017 with the U.S. Under-17 National Team. Barber, who spent late 2016 and early 2017 alongside Lindsey at the U.S. Under-17 Residency Program in Bradenton, Florida, returned to Kansas City for the 2017-18 Development season and has made seven appearances for the Sporting KC U-19s to date.
7. Duke Deployed
Sporting KC Academy midfielder Cameron Duke has joined the United States U-18 Men's National Team for a training camp at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, California that runs through Sunday. Duke is one of 24 players selected for the camp by head coach Omid Namazi, all of whom are making their first appearance on the U-18s roster. Duke, the younger brother of Swope Park Rangers captain Christian Duke, has previously participated in three camps with the U.S. U-16s.
8. First Leg is the Deepest
With the November international break in the rearview mirror, four clubs will continue their quest for MLS Cup glory on Tuesday night before national television audiences. The first leg of the Eastern Conference Championship will see Supporters' Shield winner Toronto FC visit Columbus Crew SC, while the corresponding fixture in the Western Conference sends defending MLS Cup champion Seattle Sounders FC to Houston for a battle with the Dynamo.
9. Porter Parts with Portland
After five largely successful years as head coach, Caleb Porter parted ways with Portland Timbers on Friday. Porter's departure has mystified fans and analysts alike, raising speculation about the 42-year-old's immediate future. Meantime, the Timbers now have a major job to fill, one that has been linked with former Swope Park Rangers head coach and current NASL champion Marc Dos Santos.
10. Almiron’s Accolade
Atlanta United FC midfielder Miguel Almiron was named the 2017 MLS Newcomer of the Year today, earning recognition for his superb contributions to a strong inaugural season for the expansion side. The 23-year-old Almiron was the playmaker at the heart of the Atlanta attack, recording nine goals and 14 assists. He helped the club to a 14-8-8 record in his 30 appearances as Atlanta earned a fourth-place Eastern Conference finish and a spot in the Audi 2017 MLS Cup Playoffs.
11. Setting the Field
A distinct local flavor surrounds the national semifinal matchups of the 2017 NCAA Division II Men’s and Women’s Soccer Championships, to be held Nov. 30 and Dec. 2 at Swope Soccer Village. Kansas City's own Rockhurst University returns to the men's final four for the fourth time in five years, joining Charleston (W. Va.), Cal Poly Pomona and Lynn (Fla.). On the women's side, unbeaten and top-ranked Central Missouri descends on Swope alongside Mercy College (N.Y.), Carson Newman (Tenn.) and UC Colorado Springs.
Both tournaments will culminate with semifinal and championship matches at Children’s Mercy Victory Field inside Swope Soccer Village, hosted by the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association and the Kansas City Sports Commission. For ticket information, visit ncaa.com/tickets.
Games to Watch (Nov. 21-23)
|Tuesday, 1:45pm||Sevilla vs. Liverpool||UEFA Champions League||Facebook Live|
|Tuesday, 1:45pm||Borussia Dortmund vs. Tottenham||UEFA Champions League||FS2|
|Tuesday, 1:45pm||Manchester City vs. Feyenoord||UEFA Champions League||FS Midwest|
|Tuesday, 7pm||Columbus Crew SC vs. Toronto FC||MLS Cup Playoffs||ESPN|
|Tuesday, 8:30pm||Houston Dynamo vs. Seattle Sounders FC||MLS Cup Playoffs||FS1|
|Wednesday, 1:45pm||Juventus vs. Barcelona||UEFA Champions League||FS1|
|Wednesday, 1:45pm||Basel vs. Manchester United||UEFA Champions League||FS2|
|Wednesday, 1:45pm||PSG vs. Celtic||UEFA Champions League||FS Midwest|
|Thursday, 12pm||Cologne vs. Arsenal||UEFA Europa League||FS1|
|Thursday, 2pm||AC Milan vs. Austria Wien||UEFA Europa League||FS2|