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. On Down to Mexico
Sporting KC will face Mexican club Deportivo Toluca in the 2019 Scotiabank Concacaf Champion League Round of 16, with the two-legged series set to take place in late February.
Concacaf conducted the official 2019 Scotiabank Concacaf Champions League draw on Monday at the Univision Deportes Studios in Miami, determining the eight Round of 16 matchups in a fixed bracket. Sporting KC will host Toluca in the first leg of the aggregate-goal series at Children’s Mercy Park before traveling to Mexico for the return leg.
Exact dates and kickoff times for both Round of 16 games will be announced in the coming days. Tickets for the match in Kansas City are included in 2019 Sporting KC Season Ticket Member packages and will become available to the general public in the near term at SeatGeek.com.
2. You Got a Deal
Looking to get a head start on holiday shopping this month? You're in luck. Now through Saturday, Sporting KC fans can visit the SportingStyle Pop-In Store from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. to get 25 percent off jerseys and free jersey customization.
The SportingStyle Pop-In Store is located inside the Budweiser Brew House at Children's Mercy Park. Parking is available on Village West Parkway just outside the Budweiser Brew House entrance and in the Red Lot (click here for directions). Can't make it to the Pop-In Store? Supporters can also place their orders or submit questions by emailing Stylist@SportingKC.com or calling 913-912-7563.
3. Opta’s Best
Sporting KC's two longest tenured players showed no signs of slowing down in 2018. Defenders Matt Besler and Graham Zusi are into their early 30s, but their consistent performances over the course of the season served as a prompt reminder that they remain among the best in the business at their respective positions.
Need statistical proof? Look no further than Opta, the official statistics provider of MLS. Opta named its 2018 MLS Best XI on Tuesday, giving Besler and Zusi two of the four spots in defense.
4. A Champion is Crowned
Way back on Saturday, March 3, the first ball was kicked to open the 2018 MLS season. On Saturday, the last ball will be kicked to close 2018 MLS season, with one team on the podium as the last remaining side after 34 regular season matches and four playoff rounds. Click here for everything you need to know ahead of MLS Cup 2018 as Atlanta United FC host the Portland Timbers at 7 p.m. CT (FOX, UniMas, TSN, TVAS).
5. #TBT to Y2K
With MLS Cup 2018 slated for Saturday, it's an appropriate time for Kansas City soccer fans to take a stroll down memory lane. On Oct. 15, 2000, the Kansas City Wizards defeated the Chicago Fire 1-0 at RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C., to complete a historic Supporters’ Shield and MLS Cup double. The team’s first MLS championship was secured in a manner that typified the 2000 Wizards: through opportunistic attacking, resolute defending and a series of brilliant saves from goalkeeper Tony Meola, Major League Soccer’s MVP that year.
In this SportingKC.com oral history, participating players and former coach Bob Gansler provide an oral history of the 2000 MLS Cup — a match that reached its 18th anniversary in October and remains one of the most cherished chapters in Kansas City soccer history.
6. Vote Kuzain
The 2018 USL campaign featured a whopping 1,655 goals, and arguably none were better than Wan Kuzain Wan Kamal’s stunning free kick in the Swope Park Rangers’ 2-1 win over Tulsa Roughnecks FC on Aug. 29 at Children’s Mercy Park. Voting for the 2018 USL Fans’ Choice Goal of the Year continues this week with Kuzain’s belter among the six strikes vying for the top prize in a knockout format that will be decided by a fan vote at USLChampionship.com.
7. Martinez Most Valuable
Atlanta United FC striker Josef Martinez was named 2018 Landon Donovan MLS Most Valuable Player on Wednesday after scoring a record-breaking 31 regular-season goals, four more than any other player in league history. Martinez propelled Atlanta to the brink of the Supporters' Shield title and was the focal point of a potent Atlanta attack that amassed an MLS-best 70 goals in 2018.
8. Arena to Columbus?
ESPN's Jeff Carlisle on Wednesday reported that U.S. Men's National Team head coach and five-time MLS Cup winner Bruce Arena is a candidate for Columbus Crew SC's vacant general manager position. According to Carlisle, Arena is in contention for the GM role only. Crew SC assistant coach Josh Wolff and former Portland Timbers head coach Caleb Porter are reportedly among the candidates for the coach's role in Columbus.
9. Copa Kings
The postponed second leg of the 2018 Copa Libertadores Final between Boca Juniors and River Plate, two major rivals based in Buenos Aires, Argentina, has been rescheduled for Sunday and will be played at the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium in Madrid, kicking off at 1:30 p.m. CT on FOX Sports GO.
The match was initially set to take place on Nov. 24 but was canceled after rioting River Plate fans attacked the Boca Juniors team bus, throwing projectiles, smashing windows and injuring several players. The teams battled to a 2-2 first-leg draw and are competing to be champions of the Copa Libertadores, the South American equivalent of the UEFA Champions League.
10. Midweek Madness
The start of December marks the start of a wildly busy stretch in the English Premier League fixture list. All 20 clubs were in action this weekend again again on Tuesday or Wednesday, with Manchester City and Liverpool emerging from the pack as a two-horse race develops for the league title.
11. Tons on TV
Sporting KC's season may be over, but there is no shortage of soccer to consume on TV this weekend. See below for a list of the most notable matchups from around the world, highlighted by MLS Cup 2018 on Saturday night.
Games to Watch (Dec. 7-9, 2018)
|Friday, 1:30pm||Juventus vs. Inter Milan||Italian Serie A||ESPN2|
|Saturday, 6:30am||Bournemouth vs. Liverpool||English Premier League||NBCSN|
|Saturday, 8:30am||Schalke vs. Borussia Dortmund||German Bundesliga||FS1|
|Saturday, 9am||Manchester United vs. Fulham||English Premier League||NBCSN|
|Saturday, 9:15am||Valencia vs. Sevilla||Spanish La Liga||beIN SPORTS|
|Saturday, 11:30am||Chelsea vs. Manchester City||English Premier League||NBC|
|Saturday, 1:45pm||Leicester City vs. Tottenham||English Premier League||NBCSN|
|Saturday, 1:45pm||Espanyol vs. Barcelona||Spanish La Liga||beIN SPORTS|
|Saturday, 7pm||Atlanta United FC vs. Portland Timbers||MLS Cup 2018||FOX|
|Sunday, 9:15am||Huesca vs. Real Madrid||Spanish La Liga||beIN SPORTS|
|Sunday, 1:30pm||River Plate vs. Boca Juniors||Copa Libertadores Final||FOX Sports GO|