Starting XI: Eastward Expansion

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. A Dozen Protected

Major League Soccer announced Saturday that Sporting Kansas City has protected the following 12 players ahead of the 2019 MLS Expansion Draft on Tuesday.

  • Goalkeepers (2): Tim Melia, Adrian Zendejas
  • Defenders (4): Matt Besler, Luis Martins, Graham Smith, Graham Zusi
  • Midfielders (3): Felipe Gutierrez, Roger Espinoza, Ilie Sanchez
  • Forwards (3): Gerso Fernandes, Erik Hurtado, Johnny Russell

Additionally, Gianluca Busio, Cameron Duke, Tyler Freeman, Felipe Hernandez, Wan Kuzain, Jaylin Lindsey and Daniel Salloi are automatically protected as Homegrown Players.

The following 10 Sporting players will be eligible for selection in the MLS Expansion Draft:

  • Goalkeepers (1): Eric Dick
  • Defenders (5): Botond Barath, Andreu Fontas, Nico Hasler, Seth Sinovic, Rodney Wallace
  • Midfielders (3): Benny Feilhaber, Jimmy Medranda, Gedion Zelalem
  • Forwards (1): Krisztian Nemeth

2. Eastward Expansion

The MLS Expansion Draft will stream live on MLSsoccer.com at 4:30 p.m. CT Tuesday. Inter Miami CF and Nashville SC will add up to five players to their rosters in preparation for their inaugural 2020 campaigns. Per MLS Expansion Draft rules, only a single player can be drafted from any one club. Once one player has been claimed from a club’s unprotected roster, that club is removed from the Expansion Draft and may not lose any further players.

The following five teams, which had players selected by FC Cincinnati during the 2018 MLS Expansion Draft, are exempt from the 2019 Expansion Draft: D.C. United, Vancouver Whitecaps FC, FC Dallas, Houston Dynamo and New York Red Bulls.

3. High Stakes for Hungary

A berth in UEFA Euro 2020 is up for grabs Tuesday when Sporting Kansas City defender Botond Barath and the Hungary Men’s National Team visit Wales on the final matchday of Euro qualifying. Kickoff at Cardiff City Stadium is slated for 1:45 p.m. CT, airing live nationally on ESPN2 and streaming via the ESPN App.

The scenarios in Group E of Euro qualifying could hardly be any more dramatic ahead of Tuesday’s titanic clash between the visiting Magyars and Welsh hosts. For both nations, the prevailing message is this: win and you’re in. Indeed, should Hungary or Wales emerge with all three points on Tuesday, their ticket will be punched to Euro 2020 as the second-place finisher in Group E.

4. Opening Puskas

In a tune-up for Tuesday's battle against Wales, Barath started for Hungary on Friday in the inaugural match at world-class Puskas Arena in Budapest, Hungary. The center back logged 72 minutes in a 2-1 friendly defeat to South American giants Uruguay, collecting the 10th cap of his senior international career.

5. Hasler in Action

Sporting Kansas City defender Nico Hasler notched his 66th cap for Liechtenstein on Friday in a 3-0 road loss to Finland at Telia 5G Arena in Helsinki. Deployed as an advanced midfielder, Hasler played the full 90 minutes in Liechtenstein's penultimate UEFA Euro 2020 qualifying match. The result was one to celebrate for Finland, which sealed second place in Group J to clinch its first-ever European Championship berth.

Eliminated from Euro 2020 contention as the last-place team in Group J, Liechtenstein will conclude its qualifying campaign today when it hosts Bosnia and Herzegovina at 1:45 p.m. CT. The contest will stream live on ESPN3 and the ESPN App.

6. Freeman Makes His Mark

Sporting Kansas City Homegrown forward Tyler Freeman helped the United States U-16 Boys’ National Team to a 2-0 victory over the U.S. U-17 Men’s National Team on Saturday in the second round of the 2019 Nike International Friendlies at the Premier Sports Campus in Bradenton, Florida.

Freeman came off the bench in the 76th minute with the U-16s leading 1-0 and recorded a secondary assist on Moses Nyeman’s 89th-minute strike that sealed the win. On the opposite side of the field, Sporting KC Academy standout Tucker Lepley earned his second straight start for the U-17s and played the full 90 minutes in central midfield.

7. Friendlies Finale

Saturday’s result, coupled with the Netherlands’ 2-1 defeat of Turkey earlier in the day, puts the U.S. U-16s at the top of the Nike International Friendlies table heading into today's final round. Freeman and the U-16s will face Turkey at 2:30 p.m. CT, while Lepley and the U-17s will meet the Netherlands at 5:30 p.m. CT. Both contests will stream live on ussoccer.com and U.S. Soccer social media accounts at YouTubeFacebook and Twitter (@USYNT).

8. Sporting Adult Soccer

Sporting Kansas City is excited to introduce Sporting Adult Soccer, a rebrand and expansion of its existing adult soccer league, No Other League. Set to begin play in April 2020, Sporting Adult Soccer will build upon No Other League by extending its soccer footprint across the city when it adds a second league at Garmin Olathe Soccer Complex in addition to Wyandotte Sporting Fields. Sporting Adult Soccer welcomes players of all ages and skill levels in several divisions.

9. Yanks Roll

The U.S. Men’s National Team paid back its northern neighbor with a 4-1 win over Canada in Concacaf Nations League A play on Friday night in Orlando, Florida. Gyasi Zardes grabbed a brace, Jordan Morris tallied a goal and an assist while Aaron Long also scored in the victory that pulled the U.S. within three points of Canada atop Group A.

The USMNT can win Group A with a victory in its final Concacaf Nations League A game against Cuba on Tuesday at Truman Bodden Sports Complex in George Town, Cayman Islands. Kickoff is set for 6:30 p.m. CT with live coverage on FS1, TUDN and UniMas.

10. Monarchs Reign

For the second time in USL Championship history, an MLS affiliate has taken home the ultimate trophy. Real Monarchs joined New York Red Bulls II (2016) by winning the second-division USL Championship final in an upset road victory over Louisville City FC. The Real Salt Lake affiliate beat the two-time defending USL champions 3-1 at Lynn Stadium on Sunday night.

11. The Truce

In celebration of a long-standing Boxing Day tradition, the National World War I Museum, The Soccer Lot and Sporting Kansas City will host the seventh annual Truce 3v3 Soccer Tournament on Thursday, Dec. 26, with festivities beginning at 8 a.m. CT.

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