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. Union Usurped
Sporting KC secured their first league win of the 2019 MLS season on Sunday afternoon, defeating the Philadelphia Union 2-0 at Children’s Mercy Park. Ilie Sanchez buried an early penalty kick, goalkeeper Tim Melia saved a penalty of his own, and a late own goal sealed the result as Sporting (1-1-0, 3 points) rolled to victory over the 10-man Union (0-2-0, 0 points), who were reduced to 10 men when Marco Fabian received a straight red card in the 60th minute.
2. Magisterial Melia
If anyone needed reminding about his uncanny penalty-stopping exploits, Tim Melia provided just that in Sporting's 2-0 win over the Union. With the hosts leading 1-0 near halftime, the 32-year-old goalkeeper stoned Mexican international Marco Fabian from the penalty spot to keep his side ahead. The save proved decisive in what became Melia’s 40th career regular-season shutout, second-most in club history behind Jimmy Nielsen's 45.
Since the start of 2016, Melia has saved eight penalties in MLS regular season matches. No other goalkeeper has more than five. Incredibly enough, Melia has saved eight of 18 penalties faced over the last four regular seasons. Among keepers with at least five penalty kicks faced during that time, his 0.44 save percentage on spot kicks blows away a crop of second-placed goalkeepers tied on 0.33.
3. Eyes on Independiente
With Sunday’s MLS contest in the books, Sporting will switch gears Thursday as the club battles Panamanian side Independiente in the decisive second leg of the Concacaf Champions League Quarterfinals. Faced with a 2-1 deficit, Manager Peter Vermes’ men can win the series with a 1-0 triumph or a multi-goal victory. Tickets for the pivotal fixture are included in Season Ticket Member packages and remain available at SeatGeek.com as Sporting aims to reach the semifinals of North America’s most prestigious club competition for the first time.
4. Rangers Outdone
The Swope Park Rangers kicked off their 2019 USL Championship campaign on Saturday with a 3-1 road loss to New York Red Bulls II at MSU Soccer Park in Montclair, New Jersey. Sporting KC Academy product Felipe Hernandez unleashed an excellent volley in the 44th minute to pull the Rangers level, but Red Bulls II rode to victory behind a Tom Barlow brace and a long-range strike from Marcus Epps.
5. Three's Company
The Swope Park Rangers have signed defender Mo Abualnadi, midfielder Jake Davis and winger Sean Karani to Academy contracts , the club announced Friday. All three signings are pending league and federation approval, while their Academy contracts do not affect each players’ NCAA eligibility.
6. Youngsters Stay Hot
Three Sporting KC Academy teams continued their winning ways in the U.S. Soccer Development Academy on Saturday as the U-19s, U-17s and U-15s defeated the Houston Dynamo in a clean sweep at Houston Sports Park.
All three teams home Saturday to host their first Development Academy matches of 2019 at Swope Soccer Village. The tripleheader against Texans SC will see the U-15s and U-17s in action at 9 a.m. CT, followed by the U-19s at 11 a.m. CT. Follow @SKCAcademy on Twitter for live updates next weekend and throughout the year.
7. Week 2 Review
After an exciting (and wintery) MLS Week 1, the second week of the regular season campaign proved equally compelling. In the aftermath of Sporting's 2-0 win over Philadelphia, FC Cincinnati earned their first point in club history with an unlikely 1-1 draw at reigning champions Atlanta United FC, while LAFC flexed their muscle in a 4-1 dismantling of the Portland Timbers. Among Saturday's notable results were FC Dallas' 2-0 win over the LA Galaxy, Minnesota's second straight road win in 3-0 hammering of San Jose, and Seattle's 2-0 defeat of the Colorado Rapids.
8. Champions League on Tap
Sporting aren't the only MLS club facing a decisive quarterfinal second leg in the Concacaf Champions League this week. The Houston Dynamo, New York Red Bulls and Atlanta United FC all face uphill battles against Mexican opponents, having failed to score in last week's first-leg defeats. See the table below for a full schedule of Champions League matches.
9. Open Cup Tweaks
U.S. Soccer released the 2019 edition of its U.S. Open Cup handbook last week, revealing some interesting changes for the historic tournament. Among the most notable: A fourth player substitution will now be allowed in matches that go to extra time, allowing for another set of fresh legs to enter play in the late going.
In another significant shift, the federation is making plans for all Open Cup matches to be broadcast, so host venues will now be required to have additional staff in place to support this, including a broadcast operations manager and an electrician. It’s also prompting adjustments to commercial rights in the tournament’s early rounds.
10. Upping the Ante
In case you missed it, the Kansas City 2026 FIFA World Cup Bid Executive Committee has officially kicked off the final phase of bidding to be named one of 10 United States host cities for the 2026 FIFA World Cup, the world’s largest single sport event.
Kansas City is one of 17 U.S. cities currently in contention to be named a Host City, a decision that is targeted to be made in late 2020. Each U.S. Host City anticipates hosting between 5-7 matches, which is estimated to generate up to $620 million in incremental economic activity according to a 2018 study done by leading global management consulting firm Boston Consulting Group. A powerhouse group of Kansas City leaders have united to form the KC 2026 Bid Executive Committee, including Sporting Kansas City President and CEO Jake Reid.
11. On the Sticks
Major League Soccer has announced that eMLS Cup presented by PlayStation, the marquee event for MLS’ EA SPORTS FIFA 19 league, is returning to PAX East on Saturday, March 30 in Boston, with a new PAX After Hours format. The eMLS Cup will also feature distribution on Twitch, alongside Twitter and MLSsoccer.com.
Matches to Watch (March 12-14, 2019)
|Tuesday, 3pm||Juventus vs. Atletico Madrid||UEFA Champions League||TNT|
|Tuesday, 8pm||Santos Laguna vs. New York Red Bulls||Concacaf Champions League||YahooSports.com, UDN|
|Tuesday, 10pm||Tigres UANL vs. Houston Dynamo||Concacaf Champions League||YahooSports.com, UDN|
|Wednesday, 3pm||Bayern Munich vs. Liverpool||UEFA Champions League||TNT|
|Wednesday, 7pm||Atlanta United FC vs. Monterrey||Concacaf Champions League||YahooSports.com, UDN|
|Thursday, 7pm||Sporting KC vs. Independiente||Concacaf Champions Legue||YahooSports.com, UDN|