For the last 31 days left in the year, we're going to be looking back at 31 different storylines from 2014 in Kansas City soccer. From Sporting KC's roller coaster season, to FC Kansas City and the Missouri Comets both winning their respective league championships, each day we'll have a different article looking back at one of the 31 most important stories in Kansas City soccer this year as we get ready for 2015 and everything it brings.
For six months, Sporting Kansas City was anticipating the matchup with Cruz Azul in the quarterfinals of the 2014 CONCACAF Champions League. Cruz Azul was the Mexican powerhouse that provided Sporting Kansas City with a giant to go up against in uncharted territory.
Sporting was, without a doubt, the underdogs going into this series and, as 2014 turned to March, Sporting KC put all of their best guns forward in anticipation. After a tough loss in Seattle to open up the regular season, Sporting returned to Kansas City for the first leg of the series. The home side were able to hold Cruz Azul to a shutout all game long in a spectacular effort by Sporting KC. This was punctuated with a huge goal from Kevin Ellis that gave Sporting KC a 1-0 advantage after the first leg.
Suddenly, the Mexican giants didn't seem as giant. Sporting had beaten them and held them to a shutout on home turf and there was hope rising that maybe Sporting could go down to Mexico and pull out a victory. However, the second leg loomed and going to Mexico City was daunting. Cruz Azul fans would surely provide a hostile environment unlike Sporting had seen in recent years and Sporting's 1-0 lead looked slim.
After resting some key starters against FC Dallas in Sporting Kansas City's regular season home opener, they went down to Mexico City where they attempted to hold on for 90 minutes against Cruz Azul.
Things went poorly from the start. Mariano Pavone took advantage of Sporting KC's back line missing a couple of key components and scored in the second minute for the series equalizer. Sporting KC's only regular starter was Matt Besler with Seth Sinovic, Chance Myers and Aurelien Collin out for this match. Ike Opara, Josh Gardner and Kevin Ellis were no match for the Cruz Azul forwards.
Mariano Pavone scored again in the 23rd minute to give Cruz Azul a 2-1 lead in the series and it was starting to look dire for the away side. They were completely outmatched and their defense wasn't giving them any help.
And then, there was a glimmer of hope. In the 43rd minute, Benny Feilhaber rocketed a shot from just outside the box and tucked it away near post for the score. Suddenly, Sporting Kansas City had tied the series and had an away goal advantage. For three halves, Sporting Kansas City was winning the series and just needed to hold on for 45 minutes to advance to the semifinals.
Those ensuing 45 minutes, however, would end up being on of the most deflating minutes of the 2014 season. Pavone completed his hat trick in the 55th minute to give Cruz Azul the lead and they never looked back. Two more goals in the second half and you could almost hear Jim Ross yelling the stop the damn match. Sporting was completely overmatched and it showed in this second half. After they had the lead for three halves, they were subsequently beat down in the second and eliminated from the competition.
It seems so strange that Sporting was in a good position to win the series for the majority of it. That second half, however, will live in infamy as the complete breakdown of their Champions League aspirations for 2014. They didn't play completely horrible by any means, they were just outmatched by the powerful Mexican juggernauts. It didn't help that they were missing 3/4 of their normal back line and there are plenty of "what if" discussions to be had on that, but the fact remains that Sporting were dominated in the second leg.
Sporting will have to wait until at least 2016 to return to the Champions League, and this quarterfinal loss, combined with the group stage elimination later in the year, leaves a sour taste in fans' mouths after what was almost a brilliant upset.