Sporting into Champions League Semis with 3-0 Win
Sporting Kansas City defeated Panamanian side Independiente 3-0 on Thursday night at Children's Mercy Park to claim a 4-2 comeback victory on aggregate in the Scotiabank Concacaf Champions League Quarterfinals.
A strike from Roger Espinoza was bookended by two Krisztian Nemeth goals as Sporting used a rampant second-half performance to reach the Concacaf Champions League Semifinals for the first time in team history, setting up a monumental battle against Mexican giants Monterrey in the next round of North America's most prestigious club tournament.
As the lone MLS representative in the semifinal field, Sporting will visit Monterrey for the first leg at Estadio BBVA Bancomer before hosting Los Rayados in the decisive return fixture. Champions League semifinal windows are slated for April 2-4 and April 9-11, with exact dates and kickoff times to be announced in the near term.
CHAMPIONS LEAGUE TICKETS: Single-game tickets for the second leg of the 2019 Scotiabank Concacaf Champions League Semifinals between Sporting Kansas City and Mexican side Monterrey at Children's Mercy Park will go on sale at 10 a.m. CT Friday at SeatGeek.com. Tickets for the contest are included in Sporting Kansas City Season Ticket Member packages.
The hosts dominated a breathless encounter from wire to wire-outshooting Independiente 27-5 in the process-but had to wait until the 74th minute to grab the lead on Nemeth's close-range finish. Espinoza doubled the advantage seven minutes later before Nemeth put the game, and the series, out of reach with his Champions League-leading fourth goal of the tournament on 86 minutes.
Espinoza and forward Daniel Salloi accounted for the two lineup changes from Sporting's 2-0 league win over the Philadelphia Union on Sunday, replacing Gianluca Busio and Gerso Fernandes, respectively. On the backline, veteran defender Graham Zusi reached a major milestone with his 300th appearance for Sporting in all competitions, second-most all-time behind fellow teammate and club captain Matt Besler.
Salloi was active and involved early, seeing two shots blocked through traffic following excellent build-ups in the attacking third, but the Sporting KC Academy product was forced off injured in the 21st minute. Gerso Fernandes was summoned as his replacement and featured prominently over the final 45 minutes amidst a steady drizzle at Children's Mercy Park.
Manager Peter Vermes' side enjoyed the lion's share of possession and had Independiente on the back foot throughout the evening, but Sporting's first of 13 shots on target didn't come until first-half stoppage time. Zusi unleashed a sweetly struck free kick that curled over the wall only to be pushed aside by in-form Independiente goalkeeper Jose Guerra.
The visitors clung desperately to their 2-1 aggregate lead as Sporting applied ceaseless pressure after the restart. After Gerso's right-footed effort was repelled by Guerra, Espinoza created a superb opportunity with a lovely diagonal ball over the top to Russell. The Scottish international settled the ball on his chest and pulled the trigger from seven yards, prompting Guerra to make another reflex stop.
Gerso was denied by the woodwork in the 58th minute, then Guerra continued his heroics by palming aside Zusi's low drive and recovering to block Russell's booming rebound with his face. The Independiente gloveman finished with 10 saves, and arguably none were better than his acrobatic, full-extension stop to thwart Gutierrez from distance in the 66th minute.
Gutierrez was left in further disbelief shortly thereafter when his initial strike from near the penalty spot was saved and his first-touch rebound attempt caromed off the post. All the pent-up frustration would dissipate, however, during a late scoring barrage that ignited Children's Mercy Park.
Nemeth provided the elusive breakthrough on 74 minutes, volleying into the corner of the net after his fellow countryman and Hungarian international Botond Barath cushioned a header back across the face of goal following a Russell corner kick. The goal was Nemeth's third of the tournament and leveled the series at 2-2 on aggregate, also giving Sporting the away goals tiebreaker.
Yet Vermes' men were far from satisfied. A wonderfully worked team goal was manufactured in the 81st minute, as Gerso's low cross was met by Russell and steered unselfishly into the path of Espinoza, who hammered high into the roof of the net for his first career international goal at the club level.
Having finally been pierced after over an hour of admirable resistance, Independiente were unable to stop the bleeding in the game's dying embers. Nemeth bagged his second of the night and his fourth of the competition four minutes from full time, sliding to redirect Gerso's low delivery into the far corner to become Sporting's all-time leading scorer in international competitions.
Any immediate rest for Sporting will have to wait, as the club will now travel west for Sunday's MLS matchup against the Colorado Rapids at Dick's Sporting Goods Park. The St. Patrick's Day fixture will kick off at 8 p.m. CT, with FOX Sports Kansas City and FOX Sports Midwest Plus televising three hours of live coverage beginning with Sporting KC Live presented by Bud Light at 7:30 p.m. CT. Local radio broadcasts will also air on ESPN 94.5 FM and ESPN Deportes KC 1480 AM. Colorado's roster features three former Sporting players in Benny Feilhaber, Kei Kamara and Diego Rubio.
Sporting Kansas City Manager Peter Vermes
On the first goal...
The great thing is we had a good mentality. We never stopped and it was a matter of finding the first goal. Their goalkeeper, he stood on his head today. He had a lot of great saves and played very well. I thought he made a great save on (Graham) Zusi's free kick. I think that was a big moment in the game. There were a few chances we had where he didn't make saves where we kind of played them wide. I just felt it was inevitable. We were too good to not win the game and go through.
On being the first Sporting team to make the semis in the Champions League...
It's a historical moment in that we've never made it this far and for us to take this step. To now have a little bit of a break, too. We play this weekend and then the FIFA window comes up and we have a little break there where we can get a couple of days off. The great thing is that the guys have worked really hard. The way that we've prepared up until this point, we've put a lot of emphasis on finding a way to get through these first two series and we've done that. It's a big moment for the club but obviously we've got a big challenge in front of us with Monterrey.
On what was said to keep the players focused...
I said, 'Defensively, we've just got to stay disciplined. We don't want to get too anxious and all of a sudden leave us open for them to score a counter.' They did that against Toronto. That was one. The other piece was that everything else offensively was very good other than that we wanted to hit some early balls in behind their defense. It's the way Roger (Espinoza) scored, actually. The ball that went from Gerso all the way across the goal and then Johnny (Russell) came in like he was going to shoot and then passed the ball to Roger and he scored. Well, that ball behind their defense, all their guys were basically facing their own goal at that moment. A lot of the situations we were getting down to the goal line and all their guys, the goal was behind them, and they were facing out. Now, in this moment, they're actually facing their goal which put them under a lot of stress. I think that was the difference in the second half. Then we got great runs in the box. I don't think we were going to be denied today. I thought the mentality of the guys was great. They knew what they had to do and they started from the opening whistle.
On the pressure situation early in the year...
If you watch the Champions League game yesterday between Barcelona and Lyon, they were winning 2-1 and all of the sudden they popped in three or four goals late in the game. I'm not telling you we're Barcelona, but what I'm telling you is it's kind of the same idea. The way that we play. The kind of pressure we put on the other team, especially in a game like this where the other team sits back as much as they did. You're going to be in and around the box and you're either going to stick a lot in or the goalkeepers going to stand on his head like he did today. But the great thing is it's really hard to absorb that kind of pressure for 90 minutes and not succumb yourself to a goal. We deserved it. We deserved probably five more. I'll give the goalkeeper a lot of credit. I also appreciate, very much, the way our guys managed the game today. There was a big difference in this game today in that we wouldn't have done two, three, four years ago. From the opening whistle it was obvious. They were already walking. They were already tired is the way they were playing it off. The ball would go out of bounds and they would walk 15 to 20 yards to go pick up a ball. It bothers me so much about the game because I don't think the game should be played that way. But we're going to face that, and we have to be able to be mature enough to deal with it and we did a great job in managing that. What was great was how the tables turned and they wanted the game to be hurried up and our guys were very intelligent in the way that they managed the game at that moment. It's nice to be able to turn the tables on someone who wants to play that way. We don't want to play that way ever. It was nice to be able to just manage the game. To be up one, two, or three to zero.
On mentally getting over frustration...
What happens is you start to give up. Guys stop running in the box, and you have got a great play, but you don't have enough numbers. We kept the right mentality. We kept going. You can still score. You can score in the last minute. It was there for us. It was just the mentality and that's what it comes down to.
Sporting Kansas City forward Krisztian Nemeth
On the team's breakthrough in the second half...
We knew that after the first goal, it was going to be a different game. I have to say their goalkeeper was amazing. I'm happy to score the first one and after that, of course, the game was more open and we created more chances. The team did a really good job tactically and physically. Everything was perfect.
On advancing to the semifinals...
We go game by game. We have a lot of games. Now we have to prepare for the weekend. We have a game against Colorado. Of course, we know the Mexican team is dangerous. We're going to play against Monterrey. It's going to be a good test for us. We go into the game expecting to win. We'll see what is going to happen.
Sporting Kansas City midfielder Ilie
On the emotions of the match...
I think that we were pretty calm and conscious of the game that we needed to play. Obviously, we are happy because we are in the next round. We are going to face a really, really good team. CAI was tough and a well-deserved opponent for us. I am also happy because the team found a way to go to the next round.
On the breakthrough...
We knew that was coming. When we finally scored, they had to do something else. I think that we managed those situations pretty well so they couldn't do anything.
On the gamesmanship by CAI...
We came here to play soccer tonight. They came here to try to do their game. That's why we have a referee. I think the referee was pretty good. We can not control (the time wasting). It's not our business. We just have to step on the field and try to be ourselves. At the end, everyone can play their game. I'm glad and I'm happy to be here because we play a game where we want to be the main characters. We want to control the game from the first minute to the end. I'd rather say how good we are and how well we do things here than talk about other teams.
Club Atletico Independiente head coach Francisco Perlo (via translator)
On his takeaways from the match...
Nobody put a dollar on this team. Nobody bet for us. We were able to make it to a quarterfinal match. We put the pride of Panama at its highest. Our objective was to be a rock in front of Toronto. We were able to accomplish that. We were also a rock for Kansas City. Sporting was the better team, clearly, so there's nothing else but to be proud of this team. The character was amazing from the players. I leave this game with nothing but pride for my team. Sadly, it wasn't the outcome that we expected. The goalkeeper had a wonderful night. Unfortunately, those saves didn't give us the outcome we would have wanted but I am very proud of this team.
On his message for the team...
Don't let this ruin your night. Go ahead and have a great night. Sleep on this. You led a whole country. You had a whole country behind you that supported you. You tried to do the best you can to make this country very proud of you. Unfortunately, in a quarterfinal game, there's only one winner. Today, Kansas City was the winner. The score reflected that they deserved to win. Congratulations to them on the victory and good luck in the semifinal stage.
A charter member of Major League Soccer since 1996, Sporting Kansas City has won four U.S. Open Cup titles (2004, 2012, 2015, 2017), two MLS Cup championships (2000, 2013) and one Supporters' Shield (2000).
Score 1 2 F AGG
Sporting Kansas City 0 3 3 4
Independiente 0 0 0 2
Sporting Kansas City: Tim Melia; Graham Zusi, Botond Barath, Matt Besler (C), Seth Sinovic (Rodney Wallace 92+); Ilie Sanchez, Roger Espinoza, Felipe Gutierrez; Johnny Russell, Krisztian Nemeth (Yohan Croizet 89), Daniel Salloi (Gerso Fernandes 21)
Subs Not Used: Adrian Zendejas, Abdul Rwatubyaye, Gianluca Busio, Kelyn Rowe
Independiente: Jose Guerra; Omar Cordoba (Vito Bellino 84), Gerardo Negrete, Manuel Torres (C); Juan Gonzalez, Abdiel Ayarza (Ruben Barrow 78), Francisco Vence, Romeesh Ivey; Jorman Aguilar, Gustavo Bolivar (Alexis Corpas 64), Omar Browne
Subs Not Used: Eddie Roberts, Porfirio Avila, Alexander Navarro, Frank Piedrahita
SKC -- Krisztian Nemeth 3 (Botond Barath 1) 74
SKC -- Roger Espinoza 1 (Johnny Russell 1) 81
SKC -- Krisztian Nemeth 4 (Gerso Fernandes 2) 86
CAI -- Francisco Vence (yellow card; unsporting behavior) 29
CAI -- Abdiel Ayarza (yellow card; unsporting behavior) 35
SKC -- Felipe Gutierrez (yellow card; unsporting behavior) 57
CAI -- Jose Guerra (yellow card; time wasting) 64
SKC -- Krisztian Nemeth (yellow card; unsporting behavior) 83)
Stat SKC CAI
Shots 27 5
Shots on Goal 13 3
Saves 3 10
Fouls 17 9
Offsides 2 1
Corner Kicks 13 1
Referee: Joel Aguilar
Assistant Referee: Juan Francisco Zumba
Assistant Referee: Helpys Feliz
Fourth Official: Daneon Parchment
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