Sporting Kansas City made its route to the CONCACAF Champions League knockout stage look easy last summer.
Not this time.
The club opened the 2014-15 CCL competition Tuesday with a hard-fought 1-1 draw against Real Esteli after it withstood a late charge from the home side at Estadio Independencia in Esteli, Nicaragua.
“There were a lot of things in the game that wound up being very difficult. It was not an easy game to play for a number of reasons,” Sporting KC manager Peter Vermes said. “In the end, to get an point at their place was good. We just have to make sure we take care of business as home.”
Sporting KC opened last season’s competition with a 2-0 away victory against Real Esteli before winning its three-team group.
The club will have to work harder to advance this year — though things certainly could have been worse.
Goalkeeper Jon Kempin made a pair of big second-half saves to preserve the tie in the first CCL start of his career.
Real Esteli jumped on the scoreboard first — and it took the Nicaraguan club only six minutes to do it.
Kempin saved an initial shot from Daniel Da Silva, but the rebound deflected off Sporting KC defender Jorge Claros and into the back of the net. Claros was charged with an own goal.
The reigning MLS champions didn’t need long to respond. Toni Dovale slid a 20-yard free kick inside the near post later in the half to tie the match and tally his second goal across all competitions.
Sporting KC put a clear emphasis on opening its CCL schedule with a victory on the road. Its starting lineup featured a heavy dose of regulars, save Benny Feilhaber and Dom Dwyer, who subbed into the match midway through the second half.
“Nothing changes when we go away and play,” Vermes said. “We wanted to get three points.”
Sporting KC returns to MLS play Saturday when it plays host to D.C. United. Sporting KC holds a two-point lead over D.C. United in the Eastern Conference Standings.
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