Sporting KC

Sporting KC bows out of Champions League, ending longest run in franchise history

Coach Peter Vermes after Sporting KC bows out of Champions League: “We gave away soft goals”

Sporting KC lost to Monterrey FC in the CONCACAF Champions League semifinals at Children’s Mercy Park.
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Sporting KC lost to Monterrey FC in the CONCACAF Champions League semifinals at Children’s Mercy Park.

The internal debate rested with compelling arguments on both sides, leaving Sporting Kansas City’s front office wrestling with how to approach an insurmountable disadvantage. But those familiar with coach Peter Vermes already knew where his preference lied; they knew the factor that would sway him.

Pride.

At least in part, it prompted Sporting to use a top-rate starting lineup Thursday, despite a five-goal deficit in a CONCACAF Champions League semifinal series with Monterrey. At least in part, it prompted a sense of urgency, despite the series never actually hanging in doubt.

Maybe Sporting KC did leave Children’s Mercy Park with a better showing Thursday.

But in the end, it was only slightly.

Monterrey defeated Sporting KC 5-2 to officially secure its spot in the Champions League final. After winning the first leg 5-0 last week, Monterrey advanced easily on aggregate, 10-2, a convincing end to the deepest modern-era CCL run in Sporting’s history.

“Over these last two legs, we’ve done ourselves no favors,” Sporting winger Johnny Russell said. “Obviously we’re playing a quality side. They punished us in ways that we haven’t been used to. It was a horrible way to end it.”

Gerso Fernandes scored twice for Sporting KC on Thursday, each goal providing his club a first-half lead. Monterrey quickly countered each of them. And then its talent took over.

But the outcome of the series was not determined Thursday at Children’s Mercy Park. It was decided seven days earlier inside Monterrey’s 50,000-seat stadium.

Monterrey humiliated a Sporting KC side that privately bought into its chances of becoming the first MLS team to win the current version of the tournament. In the aftermath of the first-leg loss — and specifically because of the manner in which it came — Vermes called it one of his most disappointing outings during his Sporting KC tenure.

So that’s why the approach Thursday — Sporting used its entire regular starting lineup despite an MLS game in just three days — surprised few. If nothing else, the match represented an opportunity to prove it was better than what it showed in Mexico. And the never-say-die attitude embedded within Vermes as a teenager, which followed his playing career, which now follows his managerial career, is one in which he spends hours getting his team to adopt.

To that end, the post-game feeling Thursday was mixed.

“We’re always going to go try to win — it hasn’t changed,” Vermes said of his lineup. “When I look at the guys who I put out there today, they had an opportunity. I believe some of them fell short.

“I think some guys played really well, and I thought our mentality was good going into the game. But again, when you give up soft goals the way that we did, whether you’re in a competition like this or just playing a league match or playing whatever, you just can’t give up soft goals like that. We did that twice (in the first half) against this team, and that hurt us.”

Sporting KC was better, at least initially, sparking Fernandes’ goal only six minutes into the match. The team was still four goals shy of miraculously pulling even, but the players’ actions presented they had hope.

Monterrey’s quick-strike ability squashed it.

Again and again.

“That was our game plan — to score the first goal right away,” midfielder Roger Espinoza said. “I think that goal that we gave up, it kind of killed a lot of our hopes.”

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