Starting XI - Feb. 26, 2018

Starting XI: #MLSisBack

Starting XI 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. #MLSisBack

The wait is finally over and #MLSisBack. Following a month-long preseason campaign in Arizona, Sporting KC will kick off the 2018 MLS regular season versus New York City FC on Sunday at Children's Mercy Park. The nationally televised clash will air live at 6:30 p.m. CT on FS1, pitting the 2017 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup champions against Spanish striker David Villa and a New York City side that finished second in last season's Supporters' Shield standings.

Tickets for Sunday's highly anticipated curtain raiser are available at SeatGeek.com, and the first 15,000 fans through the stadium gates will receive a free 2018 schedule magnet courtesy of Children's Mercy.

2. Countdown to Launch

On Wednesday, all supporters are invited to Sporting KC’s “For Glory. For City.” Season Launch Party presented by Ivy Investments at Children’s Mercy Park. Held in partnership with adidas and Bud Light, the Season Launch Party will begin at 5 p.m. CT with Sporting KC's new secondary jersey on sale for the first time. Sporting KC players and coaches will join the season-opening celebration at 6:45 p.m. CT, and fans planning to attend the free event can RSVP at SportingKC.com/RSVP.

3. Done in the Desert

Sporting KC closed out the 2018 preseason, presented by Children's Mercy, with a 3-2 defeat to the Portland Timbers on Saturday at Kino Sports Complex in Tucson, Arizona. Manager Peter Vermes' men finished exhibition play with a 4-2-1 record as 11 different players accounted for 14 goals and 10 different players provided assists. Click here for the full preseason stat sheet.

4. #Dress4MLS

Supporters are encouraged to show their club colors by wearing Sporting KC gear on Friday and sharing their photos/videos on Twitter and Instagram with the hashtag #Dress4MLS. Sporting KC will feature select posts throughout the day and Major League Soccer will pick one grand-prize winner for a trip to the 2018 MLS All-Star Game presented by Target in Atlanta.

5. Block Party

The countdown to Sunday's 2018 season opener at Children's Mercy Park continues Saturday with the Sporting KC Block Party at Town Center Plaza in Leawood, Kansas (5000 W 119th Street). The family-friendly event is free and open to the public, running from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. CT. Interactive programming will include live music, yard games, an array of Sporting KC merchandise and ticket giveaways, as well as appearances from select Sporting KC players.

6. Prized Partner

Sporting KC announced today the addition of Toyota as an official First Team partner of the club beginning in 2018 and continuing through the 2020 season. The renewed corporate partnership, which expands on a previous partnership agreement in place since 2016, includes naming rights to the Toyota Plaza at Children’s Mercy Park, a title sponsorship of the Drive Time video series on SportingKC.com, cross-promotional events at all eight Kansas City-area Toyota dealers and designation as the official vehicle of Sporting KC.

7. Spanish Radio

Sporting KC announced on Friday that all 34 of the club’s regular season matches in 2018 will be broadcast live in Spanish on ESPN Deportes Kansas City 1480 AM. The broadcasts will be produced by Jorge Moreno and will feature the voice of 13-year MLS veteran Diego Gutierrez along with Ale Cabero, Raul Villegas and Alonso Cadena.

8. Hoosier State

First-year head coach Paulo Nagamura leads the Swope Park Rangers into another week of preseason preparation ahead of the 2018 United Soccer League campaign. The Rangers will travel to Indianapolis in Tuesday before playing a pair of friendly matches at Grand Park Sports Complex in Westfield, Indiana, facing fellow USL side Indy Eleven at 2 p.m. CT Wednesday and NCAA power Indiana University at 8 p.m. CT Saturday. Rangers tickets for the 2018 USL season are on sale now via SeatGeek.com.

9. Saturday Sweep

Despite playing their first matches in the U.S. Soccer Development Academy since early December, the Sporting KC Academy U-15s, U-17s and U-19s showed no signs of rust on Saturday. All three teams cruised to comprehensive shutout victories in a rain-soaked tripleheader at Swope Soccer Village, outscoring the Colorado Rush 15-0 throughout the day.

10. Sweet Sixteen

CONCACAF announced today that the CONCACAF Gold Cup – the flagship national team tournament of North, Central America and the Caribbean – will expand to include 16 competing nations for the upcoming 2019 edition and beyond.

11. CONCACAF Conquerors

The 2018 CONCACAF Champions League continues this week with the decisive second legs in the Round of 16. On Tuesday, Toronto FC will take a 2-0 aggregate lead into their home tilt with the Colorado Rapids. On Wednesday, FC Dallas will look to overturn a 1-0 deficit when they host Panamanian side Tauro FC. The midweek action rounds out Thursday with a doubleheader, as the New York Red Bulls host Olimpia after a 1-1 first-leg draw and Seattle Sounders FC welcomes Santa Tecla after a 2-1 first-leg loss. All four matches will stream live on UnivisionDeportes.com.

Games to Watch (Feb. 27-28)

DAY / TIME (CT) GAME COMPETITION CHANNEL
Tuesday, 1pm Espanyol vs. Real Madrid Spanish La Liga beIN SPORTS
Tuesday, 7pm Toronto FC vs. Colorado Rapids CONCACAF Champions League UnivisionDeportes.com
Wednesday, 2pm Tottenham vs. Rochdale English FA Cup FS1
Wednesday, 7pm FC Dallas vs. Tauro CONCACAF Champions League UnivisionDeportes.com
Thursday, 1:45pm Arsenal vs. Manchester City English Premier League NBCSN
Thursday, 2pm Las Palmas vs. Barcelona Spanish La Liga beIN SPORTS
Thursday, 6pm U.S. WNT vs. Germany SheBelieves Cup ESPN2
Thursday, 7pm New York Red Bulls vs. Olimpia CONCACAF Champions League UnivisionDeportes.com
Thursday, 9pm Seattle Sounders FC vs. Santa Tecla CONCACAF Champions League UnivisionDeportes.com
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