Starting XI - Jan. 25, 2018

Starting XI: Down to Brass Tacks

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. Down to Brass Tacks

The offseason is officially over and preparations for the new MLS campaign are underway in the desert. Sporting Kansas City has reported to Scottsdale, Arizona for the first phase of the club’s 2018 preseason, presented by Children’s Mercy.

Manager Peter Vermes’ men will take the field for their first friendly on Saturday, facing a squad of Phoenix Rising FC trialists at 11 a.m. CT inside Phoenix Rising FC Soccer Complex. Live updates will be available on Twitter at @SportingKC and @SKCMatchday.

2. What’s on Tap?

Sporting KC television analyst Matt Lawrence joined host Carter Augustine on Thursday for the debut episode of “What’s on Tap,” a new Facebook Live series that will chronicle Sporting KC throughout the 2018 season. Click here to watch the full episode as Lawrence and Augustine discuss fresh faces in camp, offseason storylines and the club’s highly anticipated home opener on March 4 against New York City FC.

3. Homegrown Addition

Sporting KC inked its newest Homegrown Player on Monday afternoon, adding Kansas City native and Fordham University standout Matt Lewis. The 21-year-old center back competed for the Sporting KC Academy in high school before excelling at Fordham, where he set school records in games played and starts while leading the Rams to a pair of Atlantic 10 Conference titles and three NCAA tournament appearances.

4. Defender’s Debut?

Sporting KC center back Ike Opara will seek his U.S. Men’s National Team debut on Sunday when the Americans host Bosnia and Herzegovina in a friendly at StubHub Center in Carson, California. Kickoff is slated for 8:30 p.m. CT on FS1 and UniMas, offering up the chance for Opara to earn his first cap at the senior international level.

5. Simply the Best

The experts have weight in, and among the several stunning soccer-specific stadiums across the United States, Children's Mercy Park remains the cream of the crop. Stadium Journey has unveiled its Top 100 Stadium Experiences of 2017, giving Children's Mercy Park the highest ranking for a soccer-specific venue at No. 44 overall. The Stadium Journey staff also published its Top 10 Stadium Experiences by league, giving Children's Mercy Park the top spot in Major League Soccer.

6. Super Saturday Sale

All Sporting KC fans are welcome to the grand re-opening of the SportingStyle Pop-In Store this Saturday 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).

As part of the shopping experience, supporters will have the opportunity to go on a complimentary tour of Children's Mercy Park between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. CT on Saturday. Tours are free of charge, allowing fans to visit exclusive areas of the stadium and take pictures with the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup trophy.

7. Besler’s Baby News

Sporting KC captain Matt Besler revealed some major news on Wednesday morning. And no — it had nothing to do with Sporting KC, the U.S. Men's National Team or anything even remotely related to sports. This particular announcement pulled the heart strings in an entirely different way. Besler took to Twitter and Instagram to post a series of adorable photos of his one-year-old daughter Parker, confirming that he and his wife Amanda are expecting a second child.

8. Lung Busters

Tuesday’s preseason agenda saw Sporting KC players undergo the infamous beep test, a rigorous drill that tests cardiovascular fitness. A pair of young defenders endeared themselves to the coaching staff with strong showings, as Amer Didic and Colton Storm placed highest among under-contract Sporting KC players. Unsigned SuperDraft pick Graham Smith also finished in the upper echelon, having completed his four-year college career at the University of Denver last fall.

9. Straight from South America

The recent influx of young and uber-talented South American players is redefining the Major League Soccer landscape, raising its standard of play and elevating the league from a global perspective. As’s Scott French points out, at least 67 South Americans will be competing in MLS this season — including 16 newcomers — largely as a result of increased Targeted Allocation Money resonating through club rosters. 

10. British Blockbuster

Straight player swaps in the European transfer market are rare, but a major blockbuster was finalized this week when Arsenal forward Alexis Sanchez joined Manchester United in exchange for midfielder Henrikh Mkhitaryan.

11. Carabao Climax

The 2018 English Carabao Cup Final matchup was confirmed this week as Manchester City and Arsenal booked their spots at Wembley Stadium for the Feb. 25 fixture. Premier League leaders Manchester City edged upstart second-division side Bristol City 5-3 on aggregate, while Arsenal ousted rivals Chelsea 2-1 over two semifinal legs. City currently has a 12-point lead atop the Premier Leauge table, while Arsenal currently occupies sixth.

Games to Watch (Jan. 26-28)

Friday, 1:30pm Frankfurt vs. Borussia Monchengladbach German Bundesliga FS2
Friday, 1:55pm Yeovil Town vs. Manchester United English FA Cup FS1
Saturday, 8:30am Bayern Munich vs. Hoffenheim German Bundesliga FS1
Saturday, 9:15am Valencia vs. Real Madrid Spanish La Liga beIN SPORTS
Saturday, 11:30am Newport County vs. Tottenham English FA Cup FS1
Saturday, 12pm Sporting KC vs. Phoenix Rising FC Trialists Preseason Friendly Updates via @SKCMatchday
Sunday, 7:30am Chelsea vs. Newcastle English FA Cup FS1
Sunday, 9:45am Cardiff City vs. Manchester City English FA Cup FS2
Sunday, 1:45pm Barcelona vs. Alaves Spanish La Liga beIN SPORTS