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. We Want Four
The final month of the MLS regular season begins in earnest Saturday night as two teams immediately below the Western Conference playoff line go head-to-head at vaunted Providence Park. Ninth-place Sporting Kansas City (10-11-7, 37 points) will put their three-game winning streak on the line against the eighth-place Portland Timbers (12-11-4, 40 points) in a monumental showdown rife with postseason implications.
FOX Sports Kansas City, FOX Sports Midwest Plus and FOX Sports GO will provide three hours of live coverage on Saturday beginning at 9:30 p.m. CT. Listeners in the Kansas City area can also catch the action live on ESPN 94.5 FM (English) and La Grande 1340 AM (Spanish), while viewers outside the FOX Sports Midwest footprint can stream the game on ESPN Plus. The Sporting KC app will also deliver in-game updates and exclusive offers to users.
2. Playoff Push
Quick refresher: the top seven teams in the West will punch tickets to the Audi 2019 MLS Cup Playoffs, which will begin Oct. 19-20. LAFC are runaway leaders at the top, but just four points separate second place (Seattle on 46) from seventh (LA Galaxy on 42) in the crowded conference standings. Portland (40 points) has the opportunity to steal away seventh place this weekend, while Sporting (37 points) can climb within two points of seventh should they emerge victorious on Saturday.
3. Internationals in Action
Over the next six days, as many as six Sporting Kansas City players could take the field for international competition across North America and Europe during September’s FIFA window. The action begins today, rolls through the weekend and concludes next Tuesday as friendly matches, UEFA Euro 2020 qualifiers and youth international tournaments add to an enticing albeit abbreviated Week 27 in Major League Soccer. Click here for a full preview as Felipe Gutierrez, Johnny Russell, Krisztian Nemeth, Botond Barath and Nico Hasler get set to represent their countries.
4. Just Because with Erik Hurtado
You may keep up with Sporting Kansas City on the pitch, but what about away from the field? Just Because, presented by Hallmark, is a feature series on SportingKC.com that provides an exclusive look into the lives of players outside of soccer—because everyday moments are sometimes worth celebrating just like a game-winning goal.
5. Stadium Tours
Ever wanted to enjoy an all-access experience at the world-class home of Sporting Kansas City? Online sign-up for public stadium tours of Children's Mercy Park is now open at SportingKC.com/StadiumTours.
Fans can take a glimpse behind the scenes at one of the finest soccer venues in North America, walking in the footsteps of their favorite players past and present. Dedicated tour guides will provide insight and backstories, capturing the lure and history of Sporting Kansas City and Children’s Mercy Park.
6. Hear from the Homegrown
Sporting Kansas City announced last Friday that the club has signed 21-year-old Felipe Hernandez, who becomes the 12th Homegrown Player in team 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.
Hernandez joined Sporting Manager Peter Vermes for a press conference at Pinnacle on Tuesday, where the duo spoke to media about the announcement. Full comments from the presser can be found here.
7. Sunday Flex
Major League Soccer announced Tuesday that the regular season match between Sporting Kansas City and LA Galaxy on Sunday, Sept. 15, will be televised nationally at 9 p.m. CT on FS1.
The Western Conference clash at Dignity Health Sports Park, originally slated to air locally on FOX Sports Kansas City, was moved to FS1 after MLS unveiled flex scheduling updates for Sept. 15, which marks the fourth-to-last weekend of the 2019 MLS regular season as clubs battle for places in the Audi 2019 MLS Cup Playoffs.
8. The Captain Speaks
In the thick of a heated playoff race, three wins on the trot has Sporting Kansas City’s captain feeling good as the calendar turns to September. Center back Matt Besler made his customary appearance on Sports Radio 810 WHB earlier this week with The Border Patrol hosts Nate Bukaty and Steven St. John. The Kansas City native has helped his team to three consecutive wins against fellow Western Conference clubs, instilling belief that a ninth straight postseason appearance is within reach.
9. Youngsters Roll
Three Sporting Kansas City Academy teams enjoyed winning starts to the 2019-20 U.S. Soccer Development Academy season last weekend, combining for a tripleheader sweep of the Michigan Wolves at Swope Soccer Village.
The Sporting KC U-15s, U-17s and U-19s all emerged victorious on the first matchday of the inaugural DA Cup, which will run in three stages concurrently with the Development Academy regular season to determine a DA Cup champion.
10. SPR Saturday
The Swope Park Rangers 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