About the Teams
Sporting Kansas City
Sporting KC come into this tournament with expectations of making the knockout stage for the second year in a row. They finished top of the group in the 2012-2013 competition, winning both road matches but drawing in both home matches. This year, they go into the opener with a roster that has had its fair share of injuries and other mishaps. This will force them to go into this match with a semi-strong lineup due to injuries to depth players or depth players having to become starters over the course of the season.
Real Esteli shocked everyone when they went up 1-0 in the first half in their first Champions League match of the year against Saprissa. Saprissa eventually got the equalizer and settled for a draw but it showed that Real Esteli was able to, at least briefly, rise to their level of competition and get a solid home result. Their weekend match with the only other undefeated team in the Nicaraguan league was postponed, meaning they will be fully rested coming into this midweek match.
Player to Watch
Sporting Kansas City- Jon Kempin
Jon Kempin made his MLS debut last Sunday against Vancouver, then made his first MLS start against Toronto this past weekend. As the likely starting keeper for this match, Kempin will have to make some adjustments from starting an MLS match. For one, he will have to manage a back line that will feature different defenders than who he was worked with in MLS. He will have to adjust to the defending tendencies of possible defenders such as Kevin Ellis, Jacob Peterson and Lawrence Olum. He played well enough against Toronto, but it will be interesting to see if he can continue that going into a completely different environment.
Real Esteli- Samuel Wilson
Wilson has had a torrid start to the 2014 Apertura, scoring three goals in as many league matches. The Nicaraguan forward has been a constant starter for Real Esteli and looks to improve upon his 2013-2014 season that saw him finish with six goals in 26 matches. Their best forward, Juan Barrera, went down in the match against Saprissa and does not look like he will be ready for this match, meaning Wilson is going to have to step up and be the playmaker that was lost in the Barrera injury.
Why They'll Win
Sporting Kansas City
Sporting KC went into Esteli last year and came out with a 2-0 victory against a team that bunkered at home. With a stronger lineup expected this year from Sporting KC, there should be no reason they do not go down there and pressure Esteli into keeping the ball in their defensive half. Without Barrera, Esteli lose a lot of their creative presence up top, leaving the clinical finisher in Samuel Wilson to carry the offensive burden. If Sporting can shut him down and force the game back they should be able to fly home with three points.
Esteli can win this match by getting a couple of chances and finishing them. They went with a 5-1-4 formation against Saprissa and it seemed to do well in both closing down the middle of the field and also giving them a few opportunities at further goals. They were able to take the match to Saprissa without giving too much up in the defense and could have walked away with a win had Barrera not been hurt, changing their offensive game plan. If they can close down the middle and give the front just a couple of chances to finish, they can pull out a huge victory.
Sporting Kansas City: Kempin; Peterson, Ellis, Olum, Juliao; Claros, Lopez, Feilhaber; Sapong, Dwyer, Dovale
Real Esteli: Lorente; Eduardo Praes, Zeledon, Kardek; Mejia, Franklin Lopez; Lazo; Rosas, Wilson, Jefinho, Valiente