Sporting Sinks Toluca 3-0 in Champions League Opener
Sporting Kansas City secured an emphatic 3-0 victory over Mexican club Deportivo Toluca FC on Thursday night in the first leg of the 2019 Scotiabank Concacaf Champions League Round of 16.
Krisztian Nemeth, Gerso Fernandes and Ilie Sanchez provided the goals on a crisp winter evening at Children's Mercy Park as Sporting became the second American team since the dawn of the Champions League in 1962 to defeat a Mexican opponent by three goals.
With Thursday's stunning result in the books, Sporting and Toluca will meet again in the decisive Round of 16 second leg next Thursday, Feb. 28, at Estadio Nemesio Diez in Toluca, Mexico. Manager Peter Vermes' men can advance to the Champions League quarterfinals with a win, a draw or a loss by two or fewer goals.
Playing their earliest competitive match in club history, Sporting handed Toluca its first defeat to an MLS foe since 1998. The visitors were pegged back early and often in the 2019 curtain raiser at Children's Mercy Park, but not before manufacturing the first chance of the game. In the fourth minute, Luis Mendoza barreled down the left flank and cut centrally on the edge of the box, only to see his curler bend just beyond goalkeeper Tim Melia's left-hand post.
Sporting dominated from there and almost landed the first punch on 16 minutes when Johnny Russell's teasing cross was prodded narrowly wide by Nemeth. Toluca suffered an injury blow shortly thereafter-Argentine forward Emmanuel Gigliotti was forced to replace his fellow countryman Enrique Triverio-before the hosts threatened twice more near the half-hour mark.
In the 25th minute, a delicious free kick from Russell was glanced onto the crossbar by Toluca defender Osvaldo Gonzalez. Los Diablos Rojos survived another major scare a minute later when Seth Sinovic's booming volley sizzled marginally high.
Vermes' men finally drew first blood with 35 minutes on the clock. Captain Matt Besler lofted a lovely ball over the top for Fernandes to chase down the left wing. The diminutive forward scurried into the penalty area and laid the ball off for Nemeth, who fired low past goalkeeper Alfredo Talavera for Sporting's first goal of 2019.
Nemeth nearly struck again three minutes into the second half. The Hungarian received a low pass from Fernandes, swiveled near the penalty spot and dragged a shot that missed by the slightest of margins. Toluca then spurned a golden chance to cut the deficit in half in the 50th minute, with Gigliotti's close-range side volley sailing several feet over the target.
Fernandes doubled Sporting's advantage in the 52nd minute, playing a neat give-and-go with Felipe Gutierrez and lashing high into the roof of the net from six yards after Toluca failed to clear the danger. The scintillating strike brought Children's Mercy Park to its feet and was nearly outdone five minutes later when Fernandes sent a blistering side volley inches over the woodwork.
Thursday's win was comprehensive and wire-to-wire in nature, but Sporting had to defend resolutely in the 66th minute to keep the clean sheet. Federico Mancuello's clever diagonal ball to the far right post found an open Rodrigo Salinas, but Besler intervened crucially to block the ensuing shot behind for a corner kick.
Ilie added icing to the cake in the 72nd minute with a jaw-dropping volley from 20 yards. Another wave of Sporting pressure was initially repelled, but the ball skipped invitingly into the path of Ilie at the top of the box. The 29-year old Spaniard made no mistake with a masterfully taken right-footed rocket that caromed off the crossbar and nestled into the net. The spectacular goal proved to be the nail in the coffin for a Toluca side that saw its winless streak hit six games in all competitions.
Next Thursday's second leg in Toluca-played at a lung-busting altitude of 8,750 feet-will kick off at 9 p.m. CT on YahooSports.com and Univision Deportes. The series winner will progress to the Champions League quarterfinals to face the victor between Toronto FC and Independiente of Panama, with quarterfinal fixtures set for March 5-7 and March 12-14.
Sporting Kansas City Manager Peter Vermes
On if that performance exceeded his expectations...
I think there's no doubt that the ability for us to play through as good a team as Toluca is pretty impressive. I think, at the end of the day, you have to commend our guys. We have quality guys on our team. They worked very, very hard. Ever since the last game last year, they kind of knew what was in front of us. We had a big talk about it. We laid out a plan physically while they were in their offseason. They did the work and we started a little bit earlier than we normally would have. I think we had the best preseason we've ever had, and I commend the players for that. At the end of the day, if they don't come to work every day then you don't have the best preseason. Credit to them - they worked hard. But this is just one leg. This is just one game. We have a second leg here that is going to be very difficult and we realize that.
On the connection betweenKrisztian Nemethand Gerso...
I thought from the attacking perspective we had a really good understanding of what we wanted to take advantage of. I thought that Gerso's movement off the ball was tremendous. I thought that Nemeth was excellent to play through. He's always very good in very tight spaces in and around the box. He got his goal that way. He almost scored another one. He's giving final passes in some great situations. He's maybe a little bit unlucky on a few balls that he hit. His movement was tremendous. His link up play was great and he definitely helped us in the way we wanted to play.
On scoring goals early in the season...
It's always important for a goal scorer to get a goal as quick as he can under his belt. I have to be honest - in the preseason he's been scoring game after game. He's been giving great assists as well. His involvement with the team has been tremendous. For him to get this in the first game and for him to play the way he did is a great start for sure.
On the team staying within themselves...
Well, staying within ourselves won't be difficult. We haven't even played an MLS game, so we've got a long way to go. I think the big thing for us is getting prepared to play at the altitude that their home field presents. Playing at 8800 feet is a difficult proposition for any team. We're going to have to be ready. It's one thing if you're in form and you've played in a lot of games and you have soccer fitness under you. It can be a little bit easier but the fact that this is our first competitive game, that's what makes this so difficult. We're going to Albuquerque, New Mexico, to train in altitude for about five to six days. That's going to help a little bit with us getting acclimated.
On Seth Sinovic's play out of the back...
I thought everybody played very well. The best thing was that they played with courage. They wanted to play. They didn't want to come out and play a style which we're not used to. Even thought this was the first game of the season for us, we wanted to play our style. I thought we did that. I thought we were hungry for the goal. If you look at our back four with (Andreu) Fontas in there, he's so good on the ball. It was hard for them to pinpoint one guy. Then in the second half, Seth (Sinovic) was an outlet for us big time. In the second half, we found him and that was our pressure valve. That was a way for us to relieve the pressure they put on us and get into space. He really helped us in the second half.
On Sporting settling into the game after the first 15 minutes...
You have to give them credit. We knew going into it that they were a really good pressing team. They hunt the ball really well, individually and as a group. We were very aware of that. They had a little bit of a trap they were trying to institute during the game. I thought we made a good adjustment and took care of that. I also think the other thing is that we move the ball very quickly. It was hard for them to really pinpoint one guy. The other thing is we took what they gave us. There were some other things that they gave us during the game and we just took advantage of it. We just kept going back to the well and didn't shy away from it.
On Andreu Fontas playing on the back line next to Matt Besler...
He's excellent on the ball. He's very, very smart and reads the game incredibly well. I also think that it's throwing teams off a little. He is left footed playing in the right channel. That's not normal. Usually you have two right footed guys that play back there. Usually you don't have two lefts. I thought he managed the game very well. He's very smart and stepped in when he had to. He's just very good on the ball and that helps us. We're a team that wants to play with the ball and you can't have one weak link out there.
On Kelyn Rowe and Erik Hurtado...
My idea was to try and get them into the game, especially when we were where we wanted to be, and get them indoctrinated. That point in the game provides certain responsibilities for them to have at that moment. To get them into a game and then be able to go back and talk to them and say, 'Hey, this part was good, this is something you need to be aware of at this point in the game to help us close out the rest of the game.' That's really good for us to be able to get those guys on the field.
Sporting Kansas City forward Krisztian Nemeth
Thoughts on the team's performance...
I think that our team played well. Our fitness level and everything was fine. We played against a great team. Don't forget that. I think the game plan was great. I think, in the end, we deserved the victory.
On the team's tactical approach...
In the front, we tried to press them. We tried to force them to play long balls. Our center backs were in good positions to take those balls and start to play. They had a couple of chances but I think the result is fair for us.
On his game-winning goal...
I saw Gerso go behind the defense and I followed the situation. All of a sudden - I don't know how - the ball came to me and I tried to be patient to find the goal. I tried to bring the ball to the free spot and shoot it. There was three guys in front of me so I had to be patient to finish it.
On stretching the lead to 3-0...
Gerso played really well tonight, as did the whole team. Ilie's goal was a golazo. I'm happy for them.
On how to approach the second leg...
We have to be smart. It's not over. We have to be prepared. We know that they're dangerous at home. We're going there to fight for the result and we hope to move onto the next round.
Sporting Kansas City forward Gerso Fernandes
On starting the season strong...
It was great to be playing the first game after the offseason, having some new players - not a lot - but some new players involved. We keep working the same way. Everybody understands what they need to do. It's important and winning 3-0 at home is huge for us, especially because we didn't concede any goals.
On the key to the team's victory...
We did what we have been practicing these past five weeks before the game: play together, be smart, keep the ball as much as we can and when you have a chance, go and put it in.
On the opening goal...
That's something that I do a lot - running behind the defense. It's something that the staff ask of me a lot, especially Peter (Vermes) asks me a lot to do. It's something I'm always looking for and it was a great ball by (Matt) Besler. That made it easy for me.
On his goal...
That was a combination with Felipe (Gutierrez). I was trying to cross it to (Krisztian) Nemeth but he couldn't finish it. The ball bounced to me and I was just like, 'I'm going to smash it inside.' Lucky me, it went in.
On being active in the attack and being named Man of the Match...
That's what I do as a winger. Whenever I have a chance to go one-on-one, I go with everything. I think I'm good at it. So any time I have a chance, I will try to do it and after that, I will try to find a teammate to assist.
On the vocal support despite the cold conditions...
It was good for the people who came out. We know that it's cold and some people prefer to stay home and watch the game. We want to thank the people that came and we'll be waiting for the others who were at home watching the game.
On the team's mentality going into the second leg...
It's doing the same thing: playing together and being smart. We know they have a good team. Winning 3-0 here is nothing if you don't go there and play as a team. That's what we need to have in our head: to play as a team and do our best.
Deportivo Toluca FC Manager Hernan Cristante
On the weather playing a factor in tonight's game...
The weather did not play a factor here. When we had to make a decision, and with some of our chances, the weather did not play a factor. It was our mistakes. We didn't have a good match. We didn't have a good performance and we can't blame the weather.
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