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. Sunday in Seattle
Sporting Kansas City (6-9-7, 25 points) returns to the pitch Sunday when the club visits CenturyLink Field to battle Seattle Sounders FC (11-6-5, 38 points) at 9 p.m. CT. The Western Conference clash will be televised live nationally on FS1 and FOX Deportes, while Sports Radio 810 WHB and ESPN Deportes KC 1480 AM will air local radio broadcasts. Supporters can also stream the match live on the FOX Sports app with The Final Whistle postgame show airing immediately afterward on 810 WHB.
2. Sporting Salutes
Sporting Kansas City will honor the service and sacrifice of military service members and their families on Saturday, Aug. 10, when the club hosts the third annual Sporting Salutes at Children’s Mercy Park.
Held in partnership with Hallmark and military units from Kansas and Missouri including the Kansas National Guard and the U.S. Air Force’s 303rd Fighter Squadron, Sporting Salutes is an immersive military appreciation night recognizing past and present service personnel and their families across all branches of the United States Armed Forces. The event will run in conjunction with Sporting’s home match on Aug. 10 against rivals Real Salt Lake at 7:30 p.m. CT. Tickets for the contest are available at SeatGeek.com.
3. Shining Star
Sporting Kansas City defender Graham Zusi made his record-tying seventh career All-Star appearance as a member of the club on Wednesday, playing the first 45 minutes of a 3-0 defeat to Spanish side Atletico Madrid in the 2019 MLS All-Star Game presented by Target. Zusi has now appeared in the last three MLS All-Star Games, having competed in four straight from 2012-2015 before a rare absence in 2016. His seven All-Star Games played since 2012 are the most in Major League Soccer.
4. REX the Robot
Zusi provided a special, behind-the-scenes look at MLS All-Star Week to one of his biggest fans back home in Kansas City. One day before taking the field against Spanish giants Atletico Madrid in the 2019 MLS All-Star Game presented by Target, Zusi hosted REX the Robot at MLS All-Star training on Tuesday at Exploria Stadium in Orlando, Florida.
REX is a remote experience robot consisting of an iPad on a pole with a pair of self-balancing wheels that lets patients at Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City experience Major League Soccer in a way that even kids physically attending the games cannot.
5. Homegrown Hero
Midfielder Gianluca Busio became the fifth player to represent Sporting Kansas City in the MLS Homegrown Game on Tuesday, starting and playing 45 minutes as the MLS Homegrown Team prevailed 3-0 on penalty kicks following a 2-2 draw with the Chivas de Guadalajara U-20s at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex near Orlando, Florida.
6. Hear from Hurtado
A new episode of The Sporting KC Show Podcast debuted Tuesday night on Sports Radio 810 WHB with hosts Nate Bukaty and Carter Augustine, who looked ahead to Sunday's crucial contest between Sporting Kansas City and Seattle Sounders FC at CenturyLink Field and welcomed one of the club's center forwards to the program.
The podcast featured an appearance from Erik Hurtado, who has overcome a nagging knee injury that kept him out over four months to make his highly anticipated return to the field. Hurtado, who joined Sporting ahead of the 2019 campaign, made his MLS debut for the club in last Friday's loss at New York City FC and hopes to play an increasingly important role as the calendar turns to August with Sporting chasing a playoff spot.
7. Ze Pedro is Ze Man
The Swope Park Rangers have signed winger Ze Pedro, the club announced Monday. Ze Pedro arrives in Kansas City after spending the early portion of his career in his native Portugal. Ze Pedro will officially be added to the Rangers roster pending league and federation approval.
8. Clarke Onboard
The Swope Park Rangers have signed defender Rennico Clarke, the club announced Tuesday. Clarke most recently played with Harbour View in his native Jamaica and will officially be added to the Rangers roster pending league and federation approval.
9. SPR Saturday
The Swope Park Rangers (3-10-6, 15 points) will play for their second straight home win on Saturday, hosting Nashville SC (10-5-5, 35 points) at Children's Mercy Park. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. CT and tickets are available at SeatGeek.com. The USL Championship Eastern Conference tilt will also stream live on ESPN Plus.
10. Fab 15s
Sporting Kansas City Academy midfielder Rokas Pukstas and forward Osvaldo Cisneros have been selected to the United States roster for the 2019 Concacaf U-15 Boys’ Championship at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida. The USA will begin play in Group B on Sunday, facing Haiti at 8 a.m. CT, before rounding out the group stage next week against Guatemala and Suriname, respectively. The top two teams from each group will advance to the knockout rounds, with the tournament championship slated for Sunday, Aug. 11.
11. Audi Goals Drive Progress
Audi of America and Major League Soccer on Wednesday announced a league-wide, multi-year initiative to further elevate the game of soccer in North America by enhancing the on and off-field experience at MLS academies.
Launched during the festivities at the MLS All-Star Game presented by Target, the partners unveiled a brand-new youth academy support program, Audi Goals Drive Progress, to help provide funding for MLS academies. Audi will kick off the program by committing $5,000 for every goal scored during the All-Star game, $500 for every goal scored in the regular season, $2,000 for every goal during the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs from October 19 through November 10, and $10,000 for every goal scored during MLS Cup for up to a $1 million total commitment of funds in 2019.