Starting XI - Dec. 10, 2018

Starting XI: Into the Offseason

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. Atlanta Crowned

A worthy champion was crowned Saturday night at jam-packed Mercedez-Benz Stadium as Atlanta United FC used goals from Josef Martinez and Franco Escobar to sink the Portland Timbers by a 2-0 scoreline and claim the 2018 MLS Cup. Playing before a crowd of 73,019, the largest ever for an MLS Cup, the Five Stripes scored in either half to secure the league title in just their second MLS season.

2.Into the Offseason

Major League Soccer's 2018-19 offseason officially began Saturday night at the conclusion of the MLS Cup. Beginning with a half-day trade window on Sunday morning, MLS clubs started making their first roster adjustments heading into the 2019 campaign. This week's calendar of events is highlighted by the 2018 MLS Expansion Draft on Tuesday, whereby FC Cincinnati will select up to five players for their inaugural roster.

3. Expansion Exemption

Good news, folks: because Sporting KC had a player selected in the 2017 Expansion Draft, the club is exempt from this year’s Expansion Draft.

The list of players available for selection in the Expansion Draft will be released by MLS Communications later today, and the event will stream live on MLSsoccer.com at 1 p.m. CT Tuesday. Click here for the full Expansion Draft rules.

4. Field Finalized

With Atlanta's comfortable MLS Cup win over Portland in the books, the 2019 Concacaf Champions League field is finalized. The five MLS representatives in the 16-team field will be Sporting KC, Atlanta, Toronto FC, Houston Dynamo and the New York Red Bulls, who clinched their berth Saturday night when the Timbers failed to beat the Five Stripes.

5. Tango with Toluca

In case you missed it last week, 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 Dec. 3 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 near future. 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 coming days at SeatGeek.com.

6. Save the Dates

The reigning Women's World Cup champions have learned how their title defense will begin next summer. The United States Women's National Team will face Thailand, Chile and Sweden in Group F at the 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup, taking place from June 7 to July 7 at nine different stadiums in France. The Final Draw took place Saturday at the Le Seine Musicale in the suburbs of Paris.

7. Tuned In

According to Nielsen media research, Saturday's MLS Cup broadcast on FOX drew a 1.2 metered market rating, the highest number for the match since 1998. MLS Cup ratings this year were up impressively from a year ago, rising 71 percent from Toronto FC's win over the Seattle Sounders at BMO Field in the 2017 final.

8. Forward duo departs Dallas

Sunday's half-day trade window in MLS saw FC Dallas part ways with two forwards who have played important roles over the last few seasons in Frisco, Texas. Maximiliano Urruti was dealt to the Montreal Impact, while Tesho Akindele was traded to Orlando City SC. FC Dallas, which parted ways with longtime head coach Oscar Pareja at the end of this season, received allocation money and MLS SupderDraft picks in the trade deals.

9. River Runs Wild

River Plate hoisted their fourth Copa Libertadores title, 5-3 on aggregate, after beating Argentine rivals Boca Juniors in a 3-1 second-leg decision that went to extra time on Sunday in Madrid, Spain.

In a match that was postponed twice and ultimately moved to Madrid due to fan violence outside River Plate's Monumental Stadium, goals from Dario Benedetto and Lucas Pratto pushed the game to extra time. Juan Quintero's sensational strike from distance and a late Gonzalo Martinez tally gave River Plate a famous victory over their fierce rivals in the biggest edition yet of their Superclasico series.

10. Shuffle at the Summit

Liverpool ascended to the summit of the English Premier League on Saturday after their 4-0 defeat of Bournemouth was followed by Manchester City's 2-1 loss at Chelsea. With 16 rounds in the books, Liverpool now own a one-point lead over defending champions City going into a busy slate of holiday fixtures that will see all EPL clubs play five times between Dec. 15 and Jan. 3.

11. Eurodrama

The 2018-19 UEFA Champions League group stage concludes Tuesday and Wednesday, highlighted by a pair of mouthwatering contests that will determine who moves onto the Round of 16 next February. Liverpool and Tottenham, facing Napoli and Barcelona, respectively, face must-win situations this week if their dreams of progressing to the knockout rounds are to be fulfilled. See below for television and streaming details of this week's biggest Champions League matches.

Games to Watch (Dec. 10-12, 2018)

Time (CT) Game Competition Channel
Today, 2pm Everton vs. Watford English Premier League NBCSN
Tuesday, 2pm Liverpool vs. Napoli UEFA Champions League Bleacher Report Live
Tuesday, 2pm Barcelona vs. Tottenham UEFA Champions League TNT
Wednesday, 2pm Manchester City vs. Hoffenheim UEFA Champions League Bleacher Report Live
Wednesday, 2pm Valencia vs. Manchester United UEFA Champions League TNT
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