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. Fantastic Four
Sporting KC (16-8-8, 56 points) staged a furious late rally on Wednesday night to claim a 4-1 victory over Vancouver Whitecaps FC (12-13-7, 43 points) and vault into second place in the Western Conference heading into the final two matches of the regular season.
Faced with a 1-0 halftime deficit, Sporting KC bagged four unanswered goals over the final half-hour at BC Place in Vancouver to move level on points with third-place LAFC while holding the goal differential tiebreaker. The result sets up a mouthwatering clash this Sunday as Sporting KC visits leaders FC Dallas (16-7-9, 57 points) in a 4 p.m. CT kickoff at Toyota Stadium, airing live on FOX Sports Kansas City and FOX Sports Midwest.
2. The Playoff Picture
Two points from Sporting KC's final two matches would guarantee that the MLS Cup Playoffs return to Children's Mercy Park for the first time since 2013. However, there are multiple scenarios in which Sporting KC can clinch a top-four finish and a home playoff game this Sunday:
- Sporting KC beats FC Dallas, OR
- Real Salt Lake beats or ties Portland, OR
- Sporting KC ties FC Dallas, AND
Houston beats Seattle
Click here for a full look at the playoff picture heading into the penultimate weekend of the regular season campaign.
3. Brilliant Busio
In the 94th minute of Sporting KC's 4-1 victory on Wednesday night, 16-year-old midfielder Gianluca Busio made history. Again.
Less than three months after becoming the second-youngest player in MLS history to record an assist, the Sporting KC Academy product and U.S. youth international tapped home from close range to open his MLS scoring account at Vancouver's BC Place. In doing so, Busio became the league's second-youngest player to score a goal in the regular season.
4. Milestone Men
While Busio stole headlines as the second-youngest goal scorer in MLS history, four other members of Sporting KC hit noteworthy milestones on Wednesday night. Manager Peter Vermes claimed his 131st regular season coaching win, taking sole possession of fifth place on the all-time MLS charts. Goalkeeper Tim Melia became the club's second goalkeeper to rack up 50 career regular season wins, defender Graham Zusi recorded his 250th regular season appearance and midfielder Roger Espinoza made his 200th regular season start.
5. Bring on Dallas
Wednesday's win sets up a monumental clash on Sunday as Sporting KC (16-8-8, 56 points) visits first-place FC Dallas (16-7-9, 57 points) at Toyota Stadium, kicking off at 4 p.m. CT on FOX Sports Kansas City, FOX Sports Midwest, FOX Sports GO, ESPN 94.5 FM and ESPN Deportes KC 1480 AM. FC Dallas holds a one-point lead on Manager Peter Vermes' side going into the penultimate weekend of the MLS regular season.
As the playoff picture continues to take shape, keep in mind: the top two finishers in the West will earn Knockout Round byes to the conference semifinals, playing away in the first leg on Nov. 4 before hosting the decisive second leg on Nov. 11. The No. 3 and No. 4 seeds will host single-elimination Knockout Round matches on Oct. 31 or Nov. 1 against the No. 6 and No. 5 seeds, respectively.
6. Rangers at the Ready
The back-to-back Western Conference champion Swope Park Rangers will begin their pursuit of a third straight appearance in the USL Cup on the road at Sacramento Republic FC at 9:30 p.m. CT on Saturday at Papa Murphy’s Park in the Western Conference Quarterfinals. The match will be streamed live on ESPN+ and will be shown inside No Other Pub in the KC Power and Light District for fans ages 21 and over.
The 2018 USL Cup Playoffs will feature the top eight teams from each conference competing in a single-elimination knockout format with all postseason games held at the higher seed. The postseason will culminate with the 2018 USL Cup on Thursday, Nov. 8, live on ESPN2.
7. King Kuzain
Swope Park Rangers midfielder Wan Kuzain Wan Kamal garnered USL Team of the Week honors Tuesday after helping SPR to a playoff-clinching 5-1 victory over LA Galaxy II on Sunday at Children's Mercy Park.
Kuzain broke the deadlock in Sunday's regular season finale with a sweetly struck free kick in the 28th minute. The 20-year-old went on to control the center of the park, completing 29 of 33 passes while winning five of seven duels, as the Rangers sealed their spot in the 2018 USL Cup Playoffs.
8. Compass Minerals
Sporting KC has announced Compass Minerals® as the preferred plant nutrition and salt provider of the club. The partnership between two Kansas City area companies will further Sporting KC’s commitment to playing on the most pristine pitches in Major League Soccer.
The club’s home field at Children’s Mercy Park, as well as the world-class super pitch at their National Development Center at Pinnacle, will be treated with Compass Minerals’ specialty plant nutrition portfolio of turf products. In addition, to help ensure the safety of players and visitors during the winter months, the club also will use the company’s premium deicing products at all Sporting KC facilities.
9. Up for Awards
Major League Soccer has released the ballots featuring the candidates eligible for each of the league's year-end awards, including the Landon Donovan MVP. Players, media and technical staff will vote for each category, with each group representing a third of the vote. Voting kicks off on Oct. 15 and award finalists will be announced on Oct. 31.
Among Sporting KC's nominees for the league MVP award are goalkeeper Tim Melia and forward Johnny Russell. Click here for the full list of league nominees in all award categories.
10. Toyota Tour
From 2-4 p.m. CT on Saturday, Sporting KC fans of all ages are welcome to attend the next stop of the 2018 Toyota Tour at Adams Toyota in Lee's Summit, Missouri (501 NE Colbern Rd.). All in attendance will have the chance to win the “No. 1 Fan Experience," which includes a custom Sporting KC jersey, a nameplate, a Children's Mercy Park tour and and on-field photo at a future match.
Supporters will also have photograph opportunities with a Sporting KC player and the 2017 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup trophy. Lastly, ticket giveaways will be conducted for Sporting KC's regular season finale against LAFC on Sunday, Oct. 28, at Children's Mercy Park.
11. Class in Session
Three Sporting KC Academy teams will continue their 2018-19 U.S. Soccer Development Academy seasons on Saturday in a tripleheader against the Houston Dynamo at Swope Soccer Village. The U-15s will kick off at 9 a.m. CT, followed by the U-17s at 11 a.m. and the U-19s at 1 p.m. All three matches are free and open to the public to attend.
Games to Watch (Oct. 18-21, 2018)
|Tonight, 8pm||Real Salt Lake vs. New England Revolution||MLS||ESPN+|
|Friday, 1:30pm||Eintracht Frankfurt vs. Fortuna Dusseldorf||German Bundesliga||FS2|
|Saturday, 6am||Real Madrid vs. Levante||Spanish La Liga||beIN SPORTS|
|Saturday, 6:30am||Chelsea vs. Manchester United||English Premier League||NBCSN|
|Saturday, 8:30am||Stuttgart vs. Borussia Dortmund||German Bundesliga||FS2|
|Saturday, 8:30am||Wolfsburg vs. Bayern Munich||German Bundesliga||FS1|
|Saturday, 9am||West Ham vs. Tottenham||English Premier League||NBCSN|
|Saturday, 10am||PSG vs. Amiens||French Ligue 1||beIN SPORTS|
|Saturday, 11:30am||Huddersfield Town vs. Liverpool||English Premier League||NBC|
|Saturday, 11:30am||Villarreal vs. Atletico Madrid||Spanish La Liga||beIN SPORTS|
|Saturday, 1:45pm||Barcelona vs. Sevilla||Spanish La Liga||beIN SPORTS|
|Saturday, 9:30pm||Rangers at Sacramento Republic FC||USL Cup Playoffs||ESPN+|
|Sunday, 1:45pm||Inter Milan vs. AC Milan||Italian Serie A||ESPN+|
|Sunday, 2pm||Atlanta United FC vs. Chicago Fire||MLS||ESPN|
|Sunday, 4pm||Sporting KC at FC Dallas||MLS||FSKC, FSMW|