It's a new experience for the rebranded Sporting KC. The CONCACAF Champions League was a goal of the franchise since the initial rebranding back in 2011. Now the day is finally here where Sporting KC will begin its journey in the Champions League. Standing in their way is the Nicaraguan champions Real Esteli. It'll be a great atmosphere and an interesting first match in Sporting's Champions League journey.
About the Teams
Sporting Kansas City
As stated multiple times above, Sporting KC is making their first foray into the Champions League's current format this year. They got here by winning the 2012 US Open Cup and will start one day before the one year anniversary of their win. They come into this match with a few injuries, including Graham Zusi, Kevin Ellis and Paulo Nagamura. 19 players will travel and 18 will be selected for the match, which leaves Sporting with less options than preferable.
Real Esteli is the reigning Nicaraguan champions and a perennial powerhouse in Nicaragua but stadium concerns have left them out of the tournament a few times. Last year they went 0-3-1 and scored only one goal the entire preliminary round. They are certainly the underdog in this tournament and playing a midseason form team while in preseason form themselves is daunting, one can never know when a great atmosphere is involved.
Players to Watch
Sporting KC- Mikey Lopez
Lopez has not played for Sporting Kansas City since his decent game against the Des Moines Menace back in Open Cup play. He'll be looking for something to prove in this match and, with the recent depletion of midfielders, he'll be granted a good opportunity to do so. It'll be up to him to control the midfield and allow the Sporting attack to get into the net early and not let the crowd be a factor.
Real Esteli- Elmer Mejia
Mejia is a big name with Real Esteli, representing the club for nine years now. In that time, he has amassed more than 100 goals and is certainly one of their better players. He has the experience playing for the club and he has Champions League experience from the past few years. His play in the midfield could really determine Real Esteli's potential in getting a result in this match.
How they will win
Sporting needs to score early and keep the pedal down. The Real Esteli fans are going to pack the house for this match and could be really troublesome if the game is close late. An early goal will quiet the crowd while simultaneously giving Sporting a cushion in which to work with for the rest of the match. Sporting has better talent than Real Esteli, let's hope they don't give them an Cinderella-style hope. Squash them, squash them early and squash them often.
There's been a style of play that has killed Sporting this year and that is playing a high line and working off of counters. If the Esteli defense can hold strong in the back, they may be able to play some good chances up to the forwards if they are high enough to receive them. Parking the bus and hoping for a chance is a slight tweak to this method that may also work. Sporting is flawed, but it will take some serious skill and possibly some luck.
Sporting KC: Kronberg, Jerome, Opara, Collin, Myers, Olum, Joseph, Lopez, Peterson, Bunbury, Sapong.
Real Esteli: Lorente, Zeledón, Rosas, Kardek, de Souza, Mejía, Oliveira, Santos, Wilson, Barrera, Sánchez
Sporting KC 2-0 Real Esteli
Sporting simply has more talent than this squad. While a good crowd will make for an interesting atmosphere, Sporting should have no trouble earning three points down in Nicaragua.