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. Welcome, Rodney
Sporting KC has signed free agent defender and Costa Rican international Rodney Wallace, the club announced on Friday. Wallace has been added to the Sporting KC roster, signing a one-year contract for the 2019 season.
Wallace has recorded 26 goals and 33 assists in 214 MLS appearances (including playoffs) since beginning his professional career in 2009. The versatile veteran, who was a 2013 MLS All-Star and a 2015 MLS Cup champion with with the Portland Timbers, arrives in Kansas City after a two-year stint with New York City FC.
2. Welcome, Erik
Sporting KC acquired 28-year-old forward Erik Hurtado on Friday from Vancouver Whitecaps FC in exchange for the club’s natural second-round pick in the 2020 MLS SuperDraft and natural first-round pick in the 2021 MLS SuperDraft. In six seasons with the Whitecaps, Hurtado contributed 17 goals and 13 assists in 123 matches (47 MLS starts) across all competitions since being selected fifth overall in the 2013 MLS SuperDraft.
3. An MLS Great Retires
Sporting KC defender Brad Evans announced today his retirement from professional soccer after a decorated 12-year career in MLS. Evans leaves the league as a two-time MLS Cup champion, a four-time Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup champion and a two-time Supporters’ Shield winner, having represented Columbus Crew SC (2007-08), Seattle Sounders FC (2009-17) and Sporting KC (2018) in addition to earning 27 caps for the United States Men’s National Team.
Including playoffs, Evans recorded 28 goals and 31 assists in 255 career MLS appearances as a defender and midfielder. His eight major trophies as an MLS player are tied for the fifth-most in league history.
4. Take a Pass
Sporting KC passed on its pick in Stage 1 of the 2018 MLS Re-Entry Draft on Friday. Three players were selected in Stage 1 as the Colorado Rapids selected Andre Rawls, Toronto FC picked defender Nick DeLeon and Real Salt Lake took Donny Toia.
The 2018-19 MLS offseason continues this week, with Stage 2 of the Re-Entry Draft taking place Thursday at 1 p.m. CT. In Stage 2, all players who were not selected in the first stage will be available again. Teams who select someone in Stage 2 will have the right to negotiate a new contract with the player. Click here for the full Re-Entry Draft rules.
5. Playoffs Revamped
Major League Soccer today announced it will adopt a new single-elimination playoff structure beginning in 2019. Starting next season, the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs will consist of a straight-bracket format that will further reward regular season performance with a greater homefield advantage. In addition, the new MLS postseason will see all playoff action positioned between the October and November FIFA windows as a three-week, uninterrupted sprint to MLS Cup.
6. Home Opener
The Swope Park Rangers will play their first home match of the 2019 USL Championship season against Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC, the league announced Friday in an unveil of home openers for all 36 clubs. SPR’s inaugural meeting with Pittsburgh is scheduled for Saturday, March 23, at Children’s Mercy Park.
7. Shifting East
The Swope Park Rangers will join the USL Championship’s Eastern Conference in 2019, the league announced Thursday as part of conference alignment plans for the 2019 season. The 2019 USL Championship will feature 36 clubs across two conferences, with each team set to play 34 regular season matches over a 33-week period beginning the weekend of March 8-10, 2019. SPR will open the 2018 campaign on March 8 at New York Red Bulls II.
8. Kuz Cruise
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 final strikes vying for the top prize in a knockout format that will be decided by a fan vote at USLChampionship.com.
9. Trending Up
For the second straight year, Sporting KC were among the hottest MLS searches on the web. Google last week announced its top trending MLS teams of 2018 as part of its annual "Year in Search," shining the spotlight on the people, topics, places and events that drew the most attention throughout the year.
Sporting KC were among the clubs that had the highest traffic spikes in 2018 compared to 2017, rather than the highest rates of overall web traffic. So teams that experienced success on the field and provided plenty of storylines off the field were more likely to draw increased traffic compared to the year before. The fact that Sporting KC has repeated the feat in consecutive years points to just how exciting 2018 was for the club.
10. New Boss
FC Dallas unveiled their new head coach on Sunday, promoting academy director Luchi Gonzalez to replace Oscar Pareja after a lengthy search process. It’s the first senior professional coaching job for Gonzalez, who has overseen Dallas’ academy since 2015 and coached in it since 2012.
11. Tasty Draws
Manchester United will battle Paris Saint-Germain in the 2018-19 UEFA Champions League Round of 16, while Liverpool have been drawn against Bayern Munich. Atletico Madrid face Juventus, Tottenham Hotspur are up against Borussia Dortmund, and title holders Real Madrid will meet Ajax. Barcelona play Lyon, Manchester City meet Schalke, and AS Roma vs. Porto completes the Round of 16 after a tournament draw was conducted this morning.