Starting XI, presented by StorageMart, 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. High Five
Sporting KC (15-7-6, 51 points) is back atop the Western Conference following a 5-1 road win over the San Jose Earthquakes (4-16-8, 20 points) on Saturday night at Avaya Stadium. Manager Peter Vermes' side occupy first place, where they spent 15 consecutive weeks until relinquishing the spot at the start of July, thanks to a two-goal, two-assist performance from Gerso Fernandes, along with goals from Felipe Gutierrez, Ike Opara and Krisztian Nemeth.
Sporting KC has now won six of seven matches, having scored five goals in a regular season road game for only the second time, the last coming on April 29, 2000. The offensive outburst increased the team's attacking haul to 54 goals in 2018 — the most since KC's first two seasons (61 in 1996, 57 in 1997) — with six games still remaining.
2. Blue Chip
Sporting KC forward Gerso Fernandes' superb first-half chip from Saturday's 5-1 demolition of the San Jose Earthquakes is one of five nominees for the AT&T MLS Goal of the Week. Fan can visit MLSsoccer.com to cast their vote until the ballot closes Thursday at 2 a.m. CT.
3. Five-Star Fernandes
MLSsoccer.com took notice of Gerso Fernandes’ scintillating performance, giving him an MLS Team of the Week nod as Sporting KC leapfrogged FC Dallas for first place in the Western Conference heading into the final six weeks of the regular season. Fernandes also received Audi Player Index Performance of the Week honors, becoming the fifth Sporting KC player to earn the award this year behind Felipe Gutierrez (Week 4), Tim Melia (Week 6), Yohan Croizet (Week 8) and Daniel Salloi (Week 10).
4. Favorable Results
Sporting KC’s current spot atop the Western Conference table was secured Saturday night with a little help from elsewhere. Former leaders FC Dallas were held to a 0-0 draw by Columbus Crew SC, allowing Vermes’ side to build a one-point cushion with their defeat of San Jose. Elsewhere, third-place LAFC settled for a 1-1 home tie against New England and fourth-place San Jose could only take a point from their 1-1 home result versus Minnesota United FC.
Click here to learn more about Week 29’s movers and shakers in the 2018 MLS playoff race, courtesy of MLSsoccer.com’s Ben Couch.
5. Putting on a Clinic
Sporting KC and Ivy Investments will team up to host a free youth soccer clinic for approximately 100 local children ages 8-12 from 5-7 p.m. on Tuesday at Children's Mercy Park. Matt Besler, Roger Espinoza, Tim Melia and Ilie Sanchez will make special appearances at the clinic, including an autograph session for all participants. While youth players receive instruction on the field, adults in attendance will hear key tips on planning for children's higher education goals through a brief seminar from Ivy Investments, including tips on tax-advantaged education savings plans called 529 plans.
6. Johnny on the Cover
EA SPORTS is giving fans the opportunity to pick players to appear on a custom cover for the upcoming FIFA 19. Sporting KC forward Johnny Russell is among the players on the ballot, having enjoyed an excellent first MLS season after spending the first decade of his career in England and his native Scotland. Visit the poll at MLSsoccer.com to cast a vote for Russell before the ballot closes at 4 p.m. CT on Friday.
7. Rangers Tumble
The Swope Park Rangers (13-10-7, 46 points) suffered a 4-3 setback to rivals Saint Louis FC (12-8-10, 46 points) on Saturday at Children’s Mercy Park, ending a four-game winning streak. Hadji Barry opened the scoring in the 22nd minute and has now scored in a USL-record six straight games, and although the Rangers struck twice in the final 10 minutes, the visitors prevailed to pull level with SPR in the Western Conference standings.
8. Homestand Ends
The two-time defending USL Western Conference champion Rangers (13-10-7, 46 points) will conclude a five-game homestand Wednesday when the side hosts San Antonio FC (12-10-7, 43 points) at 7:30 p.m. CT inside world-class Children's Mercy Park. Tickets for the pivotal Western Conference matchup are available via SeatGeek.com, and the first 250 fans to make a $5 or greater donation to The Victory Project will receive an exclusive SPR beanie.
9. Youngsters Roll
Three Sporting Kansas City Academy teams ventured to Houston over the weekend for a pair of tripleheaders in the U.S. Soccer Development Academy. The U-15s and U-19s enjoyed six-point weekends, prevailing on Saturday and Sunday against Texans SC Houston and Houston Dynamo Youth, respectively, while the U-17s earned their first result of the season with a 2-2 draw on Sunday.
10. Day of Giving
On Friday, Scooter's Coffee will celebrate the grand opening of its new cafe in Lenexa, Kansas (7741 Quivira Rd.) with a Day of Giving, donating 100 percent of the location's proceeds to The Victory Project. The donation day is the seventh Day of Giving in a season-long collaboration that sees Scooter’s Coffee raise money and awareness for The Victory Project.
11. Childhood Cancer Awareness Month
Sporting KC and The Victory Project, the club’s foundation established in 2013 to help children battling cancer, will celebrate Childhood Cancer Awareness Month with a series of community events in September leading up to the team’s highly anticipated Childhood Cancer Awareness Match on Sept. 30. Click here for full details.
Games to Watch (Sept. 18-20, 2018)
|Tuesday, 11:55am||Barcelona vs. PSV||UEFA Champions League||TNT|
|Tuesday, 2pm||Liverpool vs. PSG||UEFA Champions League||TNT|
|Wednesday, 2pm||Real Madrid vs. Roma||UEFA Champions League||TNT|
|Wednesday, 2pm||Valencia vs. Juventus||UEFA Champions League||UniMas|
|Wednesday, 7:30pm||Rangers vs. San Antonio FC||USL||ESPN+|
|Wednesday, 10pm||Seattle Sounders FC vs. Philadelphia Union||MLS||ESPN+|
|Thursday, 11:55am||PAOK Salonika vs. Chelsea||UEFA Europa League||UniMas|