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. All-Time High
Sporting aim to finish the job tonight when the club takes a 3-0 aggregate lead into the decisive second leg of the Scotiabank Concacaf Champions League Round of 16 against Deportivo Toluca FC.
Kickoff is set for 9 p.m. CT at Estadio Nemesio Diez in Toluca, Mexico, with an English-language live stream on YahooSports.com and the Yahoo Sports app. The showdown will also air live in Spanish on Univision Deportes, while Sports Radio 810 WHB (English) and ESPN Deportes KC 1480 AM (Spanish) will carry the game locally over the radio. Additional in-game updates and exclusive updates will be available on the new Sporting KC app, available for free download on the App Store and Google Play.
Seven days after Sporting cruised in their earliest competitive game in club history, a 3-0 first-leg win over Toluca, the team will now prepare for its highest-altitude match of all-time. The 30,000-seat Estadio Nemesio Diez is perched at an elevation of 8,750 feet and holds a formidable reputation as one of the toughest places to play in North America.
2. High Places
In their preparation for tonight's Champions League battle at Deportivo Toluca FC, played at a lung-busting altitude of 8,750 feet, Sporting have pulled out all the stops. The Kansas City Star's Sam McDowell has reported on the club's diligent and carefully measured preparations as Sporting take the field tonight at Estadio Nemesio Diez in the highest-elevation match in club history.
"For more than a month, Sporting Kansas City used a warmer climate in the Southwest to practice and prepare for the 2019 season. But one of its top training techniques transpired while players were asleep," McDowell writes. "From their hotel rooms in Scottsdale, Ariz., players altered their bedtime routines at the request of coaches. Before they fell asleep, they pulled individual enclosures over their heads and chests. They flipped on a switch, and air pumped into the devices. Altitude tents."
3. Wonderful Winger
Gerso Fernandes was the star of the show last Thursday, recording a goal and an assist in Sporting Kansas City's 3-0 first-leg win over Deportivo Toluca FC in the Concacaf Champions League Round of 16 at Children's Mercy Park.
The diminutive winger was also the star of the newest Sporting KC Show Podcast, which dropped Tuesday night with the club's full broadcast crew joining the program. Nate Bukaty, Carter Augustine and Matt Lawrence recapped the dominant season-opening victory—which resulted in the dismissal of Toluca manager Hernan Cristante—before welcoming Fernandes to reflect on his rampant performance and the keys to finishing the job tonight.
4. By the Beard of Zusi
With Major League Soccer's 2019 regular season campaign kicking off this weekend, MLSsoccer.com's Susannah Collins has counted down the top five goals from from the preseason campaign. Sporting defender Graham Zusi made a cameo at No. 3 thanks to his jaw-dropping volley in a 6-0 tune-up victory over FC Tucson on Jan. 30. The 11th-year veteran has a knack for producing long-range stunners, and this moment of magic in Arizona was certainly no exception.
5. Prized Partnership
Sporting Kansas City and Hallmark announced a creative new partnership on Tuesday designed to align the brands around opportunities to put more care into the world by reaching fans, players and families across the soccer community.
The industry leaders will team up on a wide variety of initiatives over the course of the two-year partnership, including support of The Victory Project to help children battling cancer and Sporting Salutes to honor the service and sacrifice of military members and their families, as well as collaboration on social media campaigns and special events where greeting cards can bring more care through the soccer community.
6. Quick Turnaround
Sporting will travel from Toluca to Los Angeles on Friday ahead of Sunday’s high-profile MLS curtain raiser versus LAFC at Banc of California Stadium. Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m. CT with national television coverage on ESPN and ESPN Deportes and local radio broadcasts on Sports Radio 810 WHB and ESPN Deportes KC 1480 AM. The Final Whistle Postgame Show will once again air on 810 WHB.
7. No Other Party
Supporters are welcome to the official watch parties for both Sporting matches this week at No Other Pub in the Kansas City Power & Light District (1370 Grand Blvd.). Kansas City’s premier bar and entertainment space will offer a variety of food and drink specials running 30 minutes before kickoff until the full-time whistle.
8. Preseason Finale
The Swope Park Rangers will conclude their 2019 preseason campaign on Saturday, hosting USL League Two club Texas United FC at 2 p.m. CT at Swope Soccer Village. Admission is free and open to the public as head coach Paulo Nagamura’s men make their final preparations for the 2019 USL Championship season, which begins March 9 with a trip to New York Red Bulls II.
The Sporting KC Academy U-15s, U-17s and U-19s will travel to Edinburg, Texas, this weekend for a pair of tripleheaders against Rio Grande Valley FC in the U.S. Soccer Development Academy. Saturday’s matches at H-E-B Park will kick off at 9 a.m., 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. CT, while Sunday’s games are slated for 8 a.m., 10 a.m. and noon CT. Follow @SKCAcademy on Twitter for live updates this weekend and throughout the year.
Oh, happy days: #MLSisBack! With return of the action returns Matchday Central. It starts on Saturday, with a special Matchday Central: #MLSisBack from 11 a.m. to noon CT on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, MLSsoccer.com and the MLS app featuring Andrew Wiebe, Calen Carr, Charlie Davies, Bobby Warshaw and Matt Doyle in studio with Susannah Collins in Los Angeles, Aaron West in Philadelphia. Bonus: John Strong, Stuart Holden and Jillian Sakovits of Fox Sports will preview FC Cincinnati's first MLS game.
11. Stay Tuned
The 2019 MLS regular season starts on Saturday, and you won't want to miss a minute of the action. In addition to matches on national and local TV broadcasts, you can watch out-of-market matches via cable, satellite and streaming. Here is how to watch every Sporting match and all out-of-market games in 2019.
Matches to Watch (March 1-3, 2019)
|Friday, 1:30pm||Augsburg vs. Borussia Dortmund||German Bundesliga||FS2|
|Saturday, 6:30am||Tottenham vs. Arsenal||English Premier League||NBCSN|
|Saturday, 9am||Bournemouth vs. Manchester City||English Premier League||NBCSN|
|Saturday, 10am||Caen vs. PSG||French Ligue 1||beIN SPORTS|
|Saturday, 11:30am||Borussia Monchengladbach vs. Bayern Munich||German Bundesliga||FS2|
|Saturday, 1:45pm||Real Madrid vs. Barcelona||Spanish La Liga||beIN SPORTS|
|Saturday, 3:30pm||U.S. WNT vs. England||SheBelieves Cup||FOX|
|Saturday, 7pm||LA Galaxy vs. Chicago Fire||MLS||FS1|
|Saturday, 9pm||Seattle Sounders FC vs. FC Cincinnati||MLS||FS1|
|Sunday, 8:05am||Fulham vs. Chelsea||English Premier League||NBCSN|
|Sunday, 10:15am||Everton vs. Liverpool||English Premier League||NBCSN|
|Sunday, 1:30pm||Napoli vs. Juventus||Italian Serie A||ESPN+|
|Sunday, 5pm||D.C. United vs. Atlanta United FC||MLS||ESPN|
|Sunday, 7:30pm||Sporting at LAFC||MLS||ESPN|