Sporting KC

Sporting KC advances to CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals

Sporting Kansas City isn’t fond of playing for draws, yet that was all the club needed Wednesday at Sporting Park to advance to the quarterfinals of the CONCACAF Champions League tournament.

Sporting KC took its chances, and put the ball in the net twice, although both goals were disallowed.

The 0-0 draw against CD Olimpia, the 27-time club champions from Honduras, was the result Sporting KC needed to advance.

Sporting KC won its three-team group with eight points in four matches. It is tentatively scheduled to play host to the first leg of its quarterfinal series on March 5, and play the final leg on the road March 12. Its quarterfinal opponent will be determined after the final batch of group matches are played today.

“For us advancing, being the first time the club was entered into this competition, was a major goal of ours this year. We advanced to the knockout stage and we’ll start preparing now for next year,” Sporting KC coach Peter Vermes said.

Sporting KC came out firing early, in an attempt to put a stranglehold on the match. Olimpia goalkeeper Noel Valladares kept the match even with a flurry of impressive saves.

Teal Bunbury scored in the 35th minute, but he was ruled offside. Sporting KC thought it had a goal in the 54th minute, but Graham Zusi’s goal was waved off by an apparent foul.

Vermes never was given an explanation of the call.

“I’ve got nothing to say. That’s a question for the referees,” Vermes said.

Olimpia didn’t appear to be in much of a hurry to create scoring chances, even though it knew needed at least one goal to advance.

“I was actually surprised that they waited that long to start throwing guys forward I was surprised at the pace of the game they wanted,” Sporting KC goalkeeper Eric Kronberg said. “I think their goal was to get a late one, and we did well to hold them off.”

Sporting KC had one final chance to walk away with a victory. Dom Dwyer, who came on in the 79th minute, broke through in the final moments of stoppage time. Valladares was up to the challenge, and sent the ball skittering past the far post.

“We had plenty of chances. Some we think we feel like we should have put away, some the keeper made some unbelievable saves. We didn’t really give too much away,” Sporting KC defender Seth Sinovic said. “I don’t feel like we were surviving, to be honest. We moved the ball well, and in the first half we had some really great opportunities.”

The foundation of Sporting KC’s advancement was done on the road, where it beat both Olimpia and Real Esteli 2-0. Both Champions League matches at Sporting Park were draws.

“There’s not much to speak about the first (home match),” Vermes said. “Against Real Esteli I thought we gave up a major opportunity. We always go to other places to try and play the piece that can really hurt you as a team is that if you get overzealous and don’t score, you start to leave yourself open at the back. I thought from a balance perspective we were very well disciplined. We maintained our composure to manage the result. That was the important aspect.”

Sporting KC now turns its full attention to the final match of the MLS regular season on Saturday at Philadelphia. A victory and a New York Red Bulls loss would mean the second Supporters’ Shield in club history and that the road to the MLS Cup would run through Kansas City.

The one goal Sporting KC could control this week was advancing to the Champions League quarterfinals. To that end, it was mission accomplished.

“It’s good not to give up a goal. We knew if we didn’t give up one we’d advance,” Sporting KC defender Matt Besler said. “It’s a good sign, the way we’ve been playing defensively as a team. We’ve been tough to play against.”