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. A New Beginning
The first “Starting XI” of 2019 offers the perfect avenue to get caught up on all the recent headline news to emerge from Sporting KC, Major League Soccer and soccer across the world.
But first things first: supporters now have the chance to get their mitts on tickets to Sporting KC’s first two home games of 2019 at world-class Children’s Mercy Park. That includes the highly anticipated Scotiabank Concacaf Champions League Round of 16 showdown versus Deportivo Toluca FC — slated for Thursday, Feb. 21, at 7 p.m. CT — and the club’s MLS home opener against the Philadelphia Union at 2 p.m. CT on Sunday, March 10.
- TICKETS: Sporting KC vs. Deportivo Toluca FC (Feb. 21)
- TICKETS: Sporting KC vs. Philadelphia Union (March 10)
MLS will unveil its full 2019 regular season slate in the near term, and single-game tickets for the first half of Sporting KC’s 2019 home schedule will go on sale later this month. As the calendar turns to the new year, click here for a full list of key dates for 2019 involving MLS, the Champions League, the Swope Park Rangers, U.S. Soccer, international competitions and more.
2. Get Pumped
Sporting KC’s 2018 campaign delivered thrills from beginning to end, packing entertainment, emotion and drama on a weekly basis as Manager Peter Vermes’ side ascended to the top of the Western Conference and brought the MLS Cup Playoffs back to Children’s Mercy Park.
A few new faces will join the club’s veteran core in 2019, with Sporting KC contesting for a quartet of major trophies over the next several months. Throw in an expansion team, new stadiums, highly anticipated rematches, and a series of marquee events at the international level, and there are more than a few reasons to believe this year will be even more special. With that in mind, SportingKC.com has rattled off 19 things that Kansas City soccer fans should be licking their lips about in 2019.
3. Cissé Season
In case you missed it, Sporting KC has signed 21-year-old Macissé Diop as the club’s official eMLS competitor. Diop will represent Sporting KC in national and global EA Sports FIFA 19 events throughout the 2019 season. In addition to following Diop on Twitter at @cisseSZN, Sporting KC fans can follow the new @eSportingKC Twitter account for the latest eMLS news and updates over the course of 2019.
4. Remembering Sigi
Sigi Schmid, the all-time winningest head coach in MLS history, passed away on Dec. 25 at the age of 65. Schmid coached Sporting KC Manager Peter Vermes as a player before they became close friends as two of the league’s best head coaches. Click here for remarks from Vermes on Schmid’s passing and his incredible impact on the sport of soccer.
5. Pulisic is a Blue
English Premier League side Chelsea FC have signed American star Christian Pulisic from German club Borussia Dortmund for a reported transfer fee of $73 million, the most ever for a U.S. player. Pulisic, 20, has been loaned back to Dortmund for the remainder of the 2018-19 Bundesliga campaign and will join the Blues this summer for his professional debut in England.
Widely regarded the best American player in the sport, Pulisic has enjoyed an excellent three-year stint with Dortmund, totaling 15 goals and 24 assists in 115 games across all competitions.
6. Guardian of the Galaxy
The LA Galaxy have named former MLS MVP Guillermo Barros Schelotto as their new head coach. Schelotto, 45, had coached Boca Juniors since 2016, winning two league titles and finishing as Copa Libertadores runner-up last month prior to departing. Schelotto previously played four seasons for Columbus Crew SC, where he amassed 33 goals and 41 assists and helped Crew SC to the 2008 MLS Cup. He won 2008 MLS MVP and MLS Cup MVP honors that season and also led the Crew to a second straight Supporters' Shield triumph in 2009.
7. New Boss in ATL
Reigning MLS Cup champion Atlanta United FC announced late last month that Dutch legend Frank de Boer has signed a multi-year contract to become the club’s next head coach, succeeding Gerardo “Tata” Martino. A superstar at Ajax, FC Barcelona and several other clubs during his playing days, the 48-year-old de Boer began his managerial career at Ajax, where he won a club-record four consecutive Eredivisie titles. He moved on to shorter and less successful stints at Inter Milan and Crystal Palace.
8. Ciman Turns Red
In one of the biggest transactions during the holiday period, Toronto FC signed Belgian international defender Laurent Ciman after acquiring the top spot in the Allocation Ranking Order from FC Cincinnati. Ciman moved to Ligue 1's Dijon in August after captaining LAFC in their first season. The 33-year-old won 2015 MLS Defender of the Year while with the Montreal Impact and made the MLS All-Star team in three of his four seasons in the league.
9. Reds Rolling
Liverpool haven’t won a league title since 1990, but the Reds could take a giant step toward claiming the 2019 Premier League with an away win over Manchester City this afternoon. The English heavyweights will lock horns at 2 p.m. CT on NBCSN, with Liverpool currently holding a seven-point lead over reigning champions Man City. Elsewhere in England, Manchester United have caught fire under new interim manager Ole Gunner Solskjaer, Tottenham have held firm in second place, and London clubs Arsenal and Chelsea have experienced mixed holiday results.
10. Kuzain Takes the Cake
The people have spoken (and voted): Wan Kuzain Wan Kamal’s wonderstrike was the absolute best of the bunch. Kuzain secured USL Fans’ Choice Goal of the Year honors late last month for his brilliant free kick in the Swope Park Rangers’ 2-1 win over Tulsa Roughnecks FC on Aug. 29 at Children’s Mercy Park. The SPR and Sporting KC midfielder beat out San Antonio FC’s Alex Bruce in the final round of fan voting on USLChampionship.com to seal the award.
11. Save Big
Your holiday shopping is probably coming to a close, but there are still plenty of great gifts you can buy for yourself or a loved one at MLSstore.com. From now through Saturday, Jan. 5, the store has a winter clearance event with deals up to 60 percent off. So if you're looking for jerseys, some fresh Sporting KC gear, scarves or anything else that soccer fan in your life might love, look no further.
Games to Watch (Jan. 3-6, 2019)
|Today, 2pm||Manchester City vs. Liverpool||English Premier League||NBCSN|
|Today, 2:30pm||Villarreal vs. Real Madrid||Spanish La Liga||beIN SPORTS|
|Friday, 1:45pm||Tranmere vs. Tottenham||English FA Cup||ESPN+|
|Saturday, 6:30am||Manchester United vs. Reading||English FA Cup||ESPN+|
|Saturday, 9am||Chelsea vs. Nottingham Forest||English FA Cup||ESPN+|
|Saturday, 9:15am||Alaves vs. Valencia||Spanish La Liga||beIN SPORTS|
|Saturday, 11:30am||Blackpool vs. Arsenal||English FA Cup||ESPN+|
|Sunday, 8am||Manchester City vs. Rotherham||English FA Cup||ESPN+|
|Sunday, 9:15am||Sevilla vs. Atletico Madrid||Spanish La Liga||beIN SPORTS|
|Sunday, 10:30am||Newport County vs. Leicester City||English FA Cup||ESPN+|
|Sunday, 11:30am||Real Madrid vs. Real Sociedad||Spanish La Liga||beIN SPORTS|
|Sunday, 1:45pm||Getafe vs. Barcelona||Spanish La Liga||beIN SPORTS|