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 Rojossurvived 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 YahooSportsmb.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.