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. Continue the Climb
Two teams desperate for points in the Western Conference playoff race will square off Saturday when Sporting Kansas City (9-11-7, 34 points) hosts rivals Houston Dynamo (9-14-4, 31 points) at Children’s Mercy Park. Tickets for the 7:30 p.m. CT showdown remain available at SeatGeek.com and the first 7,500 fans through the stadium gates will receive a free Sporting-branded mobile phone sling grip courtesy of match sponsor U.S. Bank.
Six points shy of playoff positioning, Sporting has the chance to notch their first three-game winning streak of 2019, having opened their August homestand with a 2-1 defeat of the San Jose Earthquakes on Aug. 17. Manager Peter Vermes’ men are three points behind the eighth-place Portland Timbers (11-11-4, 37 points) and seventh-place FC Dallas (11-10-7, 40 points)—opponents who will account for three of Sporting’s final seven regular season games. A remarkably tight Western Conference table sees just three points separate second place from seventh, with Portland and Sporting both aiming to hop above the playoff line.
2. How to Watch
FOX Sports Kansas City Plus, FOX Sports Midwest Plus and FOX Sports GO will provide three hours of live coverage on Saturday beginning at 7 p.m. CT, while local radio broadcasts will air live on ESPN 94.5 FM (English) and ESPN Deportes KC 1480 AM (Spanish). Supporters can also access the Sporting KC app for additional in-game updates, mobile ordering and exclusive offers.
3. Dire Dynamo
While Sporting have enjoyed a recent uptick in form, Houston are reeling amidst a brutal summertime drought. The Dynamo suffered a 5-1 setback to FC Dallas in the Texas Derby last Sunday, pushing their winless skid to six matches and dropping their MLS record since May 25 to 2-12-2. Their two wins over the last three months—as well as their two shutouts over the course of 2019—are tied for the fewest in the league.
4. Gutierrez Gets the Call
Sporting Kansas City midfielder Felipe Gutierrez has been selected to the Chile Men’s National Team for a pair of international friendlies against Argentina and Honduras, the Football Federation of Chile announced Wednesday.
Chile head coach Reinaldo Rueda has named Gutierrez to a 24-man roster as La Roja prepare to face South American powerhouse Argentina at 9 p.m. CT on Sept. 5 at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in Los Angeles before visiting Honduras at 8:30 p.m. CT on Sept. 10 at Estadio Olimpico Metropolitano in San Pedro Sula.
5. Great Scot
Sporting Kansas City forward Johnny Russell has been selected to the Scotland Men’s National Team for a pair of UEFA Euro 2020 qualifying matches next month at Hampden Park in Glasgow. Russell and Scotland will resume their Group I campaign against Russia on Friday, Sept. 6, before hosting world No. 1-ranked Belgium on Monday, Sept. 9. Both matches will kick off at 1:45 p.m. CT and stream live on ESPN3 and the ESPN app.
6. Nico Overseas
Sporting Kansas City defender Nico Hasler has been selected to the Liechtenstein Men’s National Team for the resumption of UEFA Euro 2020 qualifying during FIFA’s international window next week. Hasler and Liechtenstein will continue their Group J qualifying campaign on Sept. 5, visiting Bosnia and Herzegovina at Bilino Polje Stadium in Zenica. Liechtenstein will then travel to face Greece at Olympic Stadium in Athens on Sept. 8. Both matches will kick off at 1:45 p.m. CT and stream live on ESPN3 and the ESPN app.
7. Off to the Netherlands
Sporting Kansas City midfielder Gianluca Busio has been selected to the United States U-17 Men’s National Team for the 4 Nations Tournament in Assen, Netherlands, which will take place Sept. 5-9. U.S. U-17 head coach Raphael Wicky has assembled a 23-man squad for tournament matches against archrivals Mexico, hosts Netherlands and Denmark. The competition will serve as the team’s final international action before the 2019 FIFA U-17 World Cup, slated for Oct. 26 – Nov. 17 in Brazil.
8. Easy as ABC
For the first time in league history, MLS Cup will air domestically in the U.S. on both the ABC Television Network and Univision Network, and in Canada on TSN and TVA Sports. The combination of the four networks represents the broadest domestic distribution ever for the championship match. MLS Cup on Nov. 10 (2 p.m. CT) will be the culmination of an exciting new playoff format that features single-game elimination matches played entirely within a three-week span beginning Oct. 19.
9. Kick Childhood Cancer
MLS WORKS, Major League Soccer’s social responsibility platform, will launch its sixth annual Kick Childhood Cancer campaign benefitting Children’s Oncology Group (COG), on Saturday, Aug. 31 as part of childhood cancer awareness month.
Supported by all 24 MLS clubs, the month-long campaign will feature a commemorative gold adidas Nativo Questra 2019 Official Match Ball to be used during all matches as well as gold corner flags and goal nets. Kick Childhood Cancer gold captain’s armbands and gold ribbon jersey patches will be worn by the players, while coaches and technical staff will wear Kick Childhood Cancer pins and New Era caps on the sideline.
10. Can't-Miss Clinic
Sporting Kansas City and The Victory Project will host their sixth annual Soccer Clinic on Wednesday, Sept. 18, at world-class Children’s Mercy Park. The interactive clinic is open to boys and girls ages 5-13 and will include a variety of perks and special opportunities for participants, including the following:
- A 60-minute soccer clinic on the Children’s Mercy Park pitch
- Coaching provided by Sporting KC players and staff
- A 30-minute meet and greet with Sporting players after the clinic
- A behind-the-scenes tour of the Sporting KC locker room
- A commemorative event T-shirt
11. USL on ESPN
The United Soccer League (USL) announced a new three-year rights agreement with ESPN earlier this week that features the USL Championship and League One matches through the 2022 season.
The new agreement will see a three-fold rise in the number of games televised annually on ESPN’s networks, including the addition of Spanish-language telecasts on ESPN Deportes, as well as continued expansive coverage on ESPN+, the leading multi-sport, direct-to-consumer video service.