Starting XI - Jan. 22, 2018

Starting XI: A New Beginning

Starting XI 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. A New Beginning

For Sporting KC players and coaches, the 2018 season is well and truly underway. Three months removed from a successful campaign that saw the club hoist the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, Manager Peter Vermes’ men venture to Scottsdale, Arizona today to kick off the 2018 preseason, presented by Children’s Mercy.

Vermes and a full squad of players met with local media on Saturday at Children’s Mercy Park to preview the season ahead, including newcomers Yohan Croizet and Khiry Shelton. Anticipation is high ahead of the club’s first scrimmage, coming against a group of Phoenix Rising FC trialists this Saturday at 11 a.m. CT at the Phoenix Rising Soccer Complex in Scottsdale. Follow @SportingKC and @SKCMatchday on Twitter for full updates. Click here for Sporting KC’s full preseason match schedule.

2. Four Fresh Faces

Sporting KC has selected four college seniors in the 2018 MLS SuperDraft to join the club for the first leg of preseason training in Scottsdale, Arizona.

In Friday’s first round, the club picked Butler University goalkeeper Eric Dick and University of Denver defender Graham Smith at the Pennsylvania Convention Center in Philadelphia. Sporting KC added another pair in Sunday’s fourth and final round, adding Mercer University forward Will Bagrou and Oakland University left back Wilfred Williams.

3. Prized Packages

Sporting KC has unveiled the club’s promotional schedule for the 2018 MLS regular season, offering up a variety of exciting theme nights, can’t-miss giveaways and family-friendly ticket packages. At the forefront, limited quantities of full-season ticket packages remain available for fans looking to catch every moment of the action at Children’s Mercy Park in 2018.

Additionally, two half-season ticket packages are on sale starting at $305 for supporters looking to work around their busy schedules. Sporting KC has also confirmed five home dates for Sunday Family Four Packs presented by Coca-Cola.

Sporting KC fans will be treated to numerous promo items over the course of the season, highlighted by the return of player bobbleheads. Club stars Ike Opara, Tim Melia and Matt Besler will each have their own bobblehead nights during the early months of the 2018 campaign. Single-game tickets for the first 10 home games will go on sale to the general public on Thursday, Feb. 1.

4. Greater Heights

Sporting KC defender Ike Opara has continued his remarkable redemption story with the U.S. Men’s National Team. After missing most of 2014 and 2015 through serious injuries, Opara rebounded in 2016 and became Major League Soccer’s most dominant defender in 2017. Now he is on the verge of his U.S. MNT debut, and as he puts it, “Anyone who has followed my career or had any hardships can maybe look at me for inspiration to never give up.”

Opara and the U.S. MNT conclude January Camp this Sunday with an international friendly against Bosnia and Herzegovina at StubHub Center in Carson, California, set for 8:30 p.m. CT on FS1 and UniMas.

5. That’s Amor

Sporting KC announced last Thursday that the club has acquired 22-year-old defender Emiliano Amor on a one-year loan from Velez Sarsfield in Argentina. Amor’s loan comes with an option for Sporting KC to buy the player on a permanent transfer at the end of 2018. He will occupy an international spot on Sporting KC’s roster pending receipt of his International Transfer Certificate and P-1 Visa.

Amor, a native of Buenos Aires, Argentina, has spent his first five professional seasons with hometown club Velez Sarsfield, a 10-time champion of the top-flight Argentine Primera Division. The center back has logged more than 50 first-team appearances since emerging from Velez Sarsfield’s youth system.

6. Wright on Time

Sporting KC signed 22-year-old forward Zach Wright as a Homegrown Player last week. Wright competed for the Sporting KC Academy U-18s during the 2013-14 U.S. Soccer Development Academy campaign before excelling at the collegiate level, where he amassed 15 goals and 28 assists over four seasons at the University of North Carolina.

7. Rangers Reveal Schedule

The Swope Park Rangers and the United Soccer announced the full schedule for the 2018 USL season on Friday. The Rangers will kick off the campaign on March 17 at Reno 1868 FC prior to hosting Seattle Sounders FC 2 in the club’s home opener at Shawnee Mission South District Stadium on March 24. The Rangers enter 2018 as reigning back-to-back Western Conference champions. SPR season tickets are currently on sale here, and single-game tickets will go on sale in early February.

8. Back in Style

All Sporting KC fans are welcome to the grand re-opening of the SportingStyle Pop-In Store this Saturday, Jan. 27, at Children's Mercy Park. To kick off the 2018 season in style, the SportingStyle Warehouse Sale is offering 25 percent off full-priced items and up to 50 percent off sale items. The event runs from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. CT at the Members Club inside Children's Mercy Park. Parking is available on Village West Parkway just outside the Members Club entrance and in Lot D (click here for directions).

In conjunction with the warehouse sale, supporters will have the opportunity to go on Children's Mercy Park tours from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. CT on Saturday. Stadium tours are $10 per person, allowing fans to visit exclusive areas such as the Sporting KC locker room and take pictures with the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup trophy. Tours will run approximately one hour.

9. Trade winds

Friday’s SuperDraft came complete with sidebar player movement, and a pair of blockbuster trades effectively stole headlines. The Philadelphia Union acquired pacey winger David Accam from the Chicago Fire in exchange for $1.2 million in allocation money, not long before the LA Galaxy snared Columbus Crew SC striker Ola Kamara in exchange for Gyasi Zardes and $400,000 in allocation money.

10. Splashing Cash

As if Friday didn’t deliver enough excitement, Atlanta United FC also sealed the capture of 18-year-old Argentine sensation Ezequiel Barco in a transfer worth a reported MLS-record fee of $15 million.

11. Sporting Samaritans

Sporting KC and Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas City are teaming up once again in 2018 to recognize Blue KC Sporting Samaritans, honoring students and teachers who make the Kansas City community a better place to live, work and play. Once a month, a Samaritan will be recognized on the pitch at Children's Mercy Park before a Sporting KC home game. The Samaritan and a limited number of guests will receive a behind the scenes VIP experience with a wide variety of all-inclusive perks. Supporters can nominate members of their community to be the next Blue KC Sporting Samaritan at

Games to Watch (Jan. 22-25)

Today, 1:45pm Juventus vs. Genoa Italian Serie A beIN SPORTS
Today, 2pm Swansea City vs. Liverpool English Premier League NBCSN
Tuesday, 1:45pm Bristol City vs. Manchester City English Carabao Cup WatchESPN
Tuesday, 2:30pm Sevilla vs. Atletico Madrid Spanish Copa del Rey beIN SPORTS
Wednesday, 11:30am PSG vs. Guingamp Coupe de France beIN SPORTS
Wednesday, 2pm Arsenal vs. Chelsea English Carabao Cup WatchESPN
Wednesday, 2:30pm Real Madrid vs. Leganes Spanish Copa del Rey beIN SPORTS
Thursday, 2:30pm Barcelona vs. Espanyol Spanish Copa del Rey beIN SPORTS