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. Three on the Trot
Johnny Russell’s first-half header propelled Sporting Kansas City (10-11-7, 37 points) to a crucial 1-0 victory over rivals Houston Dynamo (9-15-4, 31 points) on Saturday night at Children’s Mercy Park. The result gives ninth-place Sporting their first three-game winning streak of 2019 and keeps the club within striking distance of the seventh and final playoff spotin the Western Conference.
Goalkeeper Tim Melia made five saves en route to his 45th career regular season shutout—tying Jimmy Nielsen for the most in team history—as the hosts claimed a momentous win in the bid for a ninth consecutive postseason berth while stretching Houston’s winless skid to seven matches.
2. Time for the Timbers
Manager Peter Vermes' men will continue their playoff push this Saturday when they visit the eighth-place Portland Timbers (12-11-4, 40 points) in a pivotal Western Conference clash at Providence Park. Kickoff is slated for 9:30 p.m. CT with live coverage on FOX Sports Kansas City, FOX Sports Midwest Plus and FOX Sports GO. Supporters are also invited to the game's official watch party at No Other Pub (1370 Grand Blvd., Kansas City, MO) in the Power & Light District, which will offer a variety of food and drink specials from 9 p.m. CT until the full-time whistle.
3. Felipe to the First Team
Sporting announced Friday that the club has signed 21-year-old Felipe Hernandez as a Homegrown Player ahead of the MLS Roster Freeze deadline. The midfielder has inked an MLS contract through 2020 with options for 2021 and 2022, becoming the 12th Homegrown Player in club history.
Hernandez is the first-ever Sporting player to progress from an Academy Affiliate club to the Sporting KC Academy to the Swope Park Rangers before signing with the senior team. His acquisition comes on the heels of a breakout season in the USL Championship, where Hernandez has started 22 of 23 appearances, scored a team-best eight goals and recorded three assists.
4. Gutierrez Gets the Call
Sporting midfielder Felipe Gutierrez has been selected to the Chile Men’s National Team for a pair of international friendlies against Argentina and Honduras. 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 Thursday 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. Hungarians Abroad
Sporting defender Botond Barath and forward Krisztian Nemeth have joined the Hungary Men’s National Team ahead of two international matches in Europe. Barath, Nemeth and the Magyars will travel to face Montenegro in a friendly on Thursday before resuming their UEFA Euro 2020 qualifying campaign by hosting Slovakia next Monday. Both matches will kick off at 1:45 p.m. CT and stream live on ESPN3 and the ESPN app.
6. Great Scot
Sporting forward Johnny Russell has been selected to the Scotland Men’s National Team for a pair of UEFA Euro 2020 qualifying matches at Hampden Park in Glasgow. Russell and Scotland will resume their Group I campaign against Russia on Friday before hosting world No. 1-ranked Belgium next Monday, Sept. 9. Both matches will kick off at 1:45 p.m. CT and stream live on ESPN3 and the ESPN app.
7. Nico Overseas
Sporting defender Nico Hasler has been selected to the Liechtenstein Men’s National Team for the resumption of UEFA Euro 2020 qualifying. Hasler and Liechtenstein will continue their Group J qualifying campaign on Thursday, visiting Bosnia and Herzegovina at Bilino Polje Stadium in Zenica. Liechtenstein will then travel to face Greece at Olympic Stadium in Athens on Sunday. Both matches will kick off at 1:45 p.m. CT and stream live on ESPN3 and the ESPN app.
8. Off to the Netherlands
Sporting 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 Thursday through Monday. U.S. U-17 head coach Raphael Wicky has assembled a 23-man squad for tournament matches against archrivals Mexico on Thursday, hosts Netherlands on Saturday and Denmark next Monday. 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.
9. Tune In Tuesday
A new episode of The Sporting KC Show Podcast will debut Tuesday at 7 p.m. CT on Sports Radio 810 WHB. Hosts Nate Bukaty and Carter Augustine will discuss last weekend's big win over Houston, recap a busy slate of MLS action and preview Saturday's battle against Portland.
10. Rangers Fall
The Swope Park Rangers (3-15-6, 15 points) suffered a 2-0 defeat at Bethlehem Steel FC (7-13-5, 26 points) on Sunday night at Talen Energy Stadium in Chester, Pennsylvania. The hosts struck in either half through Michee Ngalina and Zach Zandi to deliver SPR their sixth straight loss.
SPR will continue their USL Championship campaign this Saturday, visiting Memphis 901 FC (5-13-7, 22 points) at AutoZone Park. The Eastern Conference matchup will kick off at 7 p.m. CT and stream live on ESPN Plus.
11. Can't-Miss Clinic
Sporting 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