Starting XI - March 29, 2018

Starting XI: Dueling D.C.

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. Dueling D.C.

Riding a three-game unbeaten streak and sitting atop the Western Conference table, Sporting KC (2-1-1 7 points) returns to Children's Mercy Park on Saturday to host D.C. United (0-2-2, 2 points) at 7:30 p.m. CT on FOX Sports Kansas City Plus, FOX Sports Midwest Plus, FOX Sports GO, ESPN 94.5 FM and ESPN Deportes KC 1480 AM. Tickets for the interconference clash are available via SeatGeek.com as a pair of MLS originals go head-to-head for the first time in more than a year.

SportingKC.com offers a By The Numbers preview and five things you should know about the match, while MLSsoccer.com’s Daniel Sperry writes about midfielder Felipe Gutierrez’s brilliant early-season form and Sporting KC’s high-octane offense.

2. Bobbleheads…

After weeks of anticipation, Saturday is finally the day that the first 10,000 fans at Children's Mercy Park will receive an Ike Opara bobblehead doll. This limited-edition giveaway item is a can't-miss for supporters of all ages, crafted to mimic his epic bicycle kick goal in a win over LA Galaxy last summer. For fans who arrive to the stadium late, don't fret: all individuals who spend at least $50 at any SportingStyle location in the stadium will receive an Opara bobblehead with their purchase.

3. …and Beer

For fans seeking a cost-friendly, all-inclusive matchday experience on Saturday, Sporting KC will present its first-ever Craft Beer Tasting Night with Anheuser-Busch. For $36, fans will receive one South Stand ticket, a wristband for entry into Sporting KC’s tailgate tent, a six-beer flight of Anheuser-Busch’s craft offerings, and a limited-edition 16-oz tasting glass that can be taken into the stadium.

4. Super Saturday

Sporting KC fans will have all eyes on Saturday's battle with D.C. United, but MLS diehards will have three other matches to enjoy before kickoff at Children's Mercy Park. This batch of nationally televised games is highlighted by the first "El Trafico" derby between LA Galaxy and Los Angeles Football Club, set for 2 p.m. CT on FOX. Will legendary forward Zlatan Ibrahimovic make his Galaxy debut? Saturday just might be the day.

5. Radio Rewind

Sporting KC forward Diego Rubio and defender Matt Besler joined Sports Radio 810 WHB this week to reflect on a dramatic 2-2 draw with the Colorado Rapids and look ahead to this weekend’s home tilt with D.C. United. Rubio spoke candidly about his recent loan to the Rangers and returning to score the game-tying goal against Colorado, while Besler talked March Madness and praised his team for its solidarity and attacking form.

6. Block Party

Sporting KC invites all fans to the First Fridays Block Party on April 6 in the Crossroads Arts District (2020 Baltimore Ave., Kansas City, MO). The free event will run from 5:30-9 p.m. CT, featuring live music, giveaways and appearances from select Sporting KC players. Fans that RSVP on Facebook will also gain access to the "Taste of SKC," a complimentary collection of Sporting KC's favorite eats, beer samples and a complimentary #ForGloryForCity beverage sampler.

Click here to RSVP to the spring celebration, which comes on the heels of a Sporting KC First Fridays party last summer that broke the record for world's longest flip cup competition.

7. Namaste

The Victory Project will host the fourth annual Yoga on the Pitch fundraising event on Saturday, April 21, at Children's Mercy Park. Select Sporting KC players will join defender Graham Zusi on the stadium pitch from 10-11 a.m. CT to participate in the 60-minute yoga session with all individuals who sign up at VictoryKC.org.

Yoga on the Pitch is $30 per person and all proceeds will go to Sporting Wishes, a powerful initiative of The Victory Project that identifies children who receive a secondary cancer diagnosis or relapse and grants them a wish.

8. Belmar Shines Bright

Forward Kharlton Belmar continued his scintillating start to the 2018 campaign last Saturday, bagging his second consecutive brace as the Rangers posted a 4-2 win over Seattle Sounders FC 2 at Shawnee Mission South District Stadium. On loan from Sporting KC, the 25-year-old Belmar earned his second straight USL Team of the Week nod Tuesday. The recognition came after he received Player of the Week honors for his two-goal, two-assist explosion in a Week 1 road victory over Reno 1868 FC on March 17.

9. Sin City

The Rangers (2-0-0, 6 points) will put their perfect record on the line Saturday when they travel to face USL expansion side Las Vegas Lights (1-0-1, 4 points) at 10 p.m. CT. The match at Cashman Field in Las Vegas will stream live on SportingKC.com. SPR leads the USL with eight goals through two games, having bagged four each in wins against Reno 1868 FC and Seattle Sounders FC 2.

10. Youth Wins Out

The United States Men’s National Team made a winning start to 2018 with a 1-0 friendly victory over Paraguay on Tuesday at WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary, North Carolina. Forward Bobby Wood notched the decisive goal from the penalty spot in the 45th minute as a youthful U.S. squad delivered a stout performance against their South American counterparts.

11. FIFA-Approved

FIFA announced today the 36 referees and 63 assistants who will call the 64 games during the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia this summer. The United States is the only country to have two referees selected to the tournament, as MLS referees Mark Geiger and Jair Marrufo are slated to officiate at the world’s most celebrated sporting event.

Games to Watch (March 31 - April 1, 2018)

DAY / TIME (CT) GAME COMPETITION CHANNEL
Saturday, 6:30am Crystal Palace vs. Liverpool English Premier League NBCSN
Saturday, 9am Manchester United vs. Swansea City English Premier League NBCSN
Saturday, 11:30am Everton vs. Manchester City English Premier League NBCSN
Saturday, 11:30am Las Palmas vs. Real Madrid Spanish La Liga beIN SPORTS
Saturday, 11:30am Bayern Munich vs. Borussia Dortmund German Bundesliga FOX
Saturday, 12pm Orlando City SC vs. New York Red Bulls MLS Twitter, UniMas
Saturday, 1:45pm Sevilla vs. Barcelona Spanish La Liga beIN SPORTS
Saturday, 2pm LA Galaxy vs. LAFC MLS FOX
Saturday, 7pm San Jose Earthquakes vs. New York City FC MLS ESPN2
Saturday, 7:30pm Sporting KC vs. D.C. United MLS FSKC Plus, FS Midwest Plus
Sunday, 7:30am Arsenal vs. Stoke City English Premier League NBCSN
Sunday, 10am Chelsea vs. Tottenham English Premier League NBCSN
Sunday, 1:45pm Atletico Madrid vs. Deportivo La Coruna Spanish La Liga beIN SPORTS
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