On Tuesday, Sporting KC will travel to Nicaragua to kick off its 2014-15 CONCACAF Champions League campaign against Real Estelí Futbol Club — the champions of the Nicaraguan first division.
The tournament — the cousin of the more popular UEFA Champions League in Europe — is the annual club championship featuring 24 teams from the region featuring teams from MLS, Mexico’s Liga MX and throughout Central America and the Caribbean. (CONCACAF is the alphabet soup that describes the Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football.)
The CCL consists of two stages — the first stage consists of eight groups of three teams playing each other twice and runs from August to October; the second is a two-leg knockout tournament featuring the eight group winners next year.
Five Major League Soccer teams have qualified for the group stage: Sporting KC (MLS Cup winners), New York Red Bulls (Supporters’ Shield winners), Portland Timbers (best finisher from the Western Conference), D.C. United (U.S. Open Cup winners) and Montreal Impact (Canadian Championship). An MLS club hasn’t won the trophy since the competition switched to the group-knockout stage format in 2008/09.
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This will be the second consecutive year in the competition for Sporting KC. Last year, KC won its group (also featuring Real Estelí and Olimpia), including picking up a solid 2-0 last year in Nicaragua.
KC struggled at home though, drawing both games with Estelí and Olimpia. Against Estelí, Sporting needed a late goal by Jacob “Jake” Peterson to salvage the point. (He also had a pretty solid chance at a game-winning goal that he scuffed wide.)
The two draws meant KC was seeded seventh in the knockout stage and drew Mexican powerhouse Cruz Azul, which beat KC 5-2 on aggregate in the quarterfinals. Cruz Azul would go on to win its sixth confederation title in April.
Kansas City was drawn into Group 2 this season with Real Esteli and Costa Rican champions Saprissa. The two Central American nations drew 1-1 on Aug. 6 in the first game of the group.
Here are the Group 2 fixtures this year:
Tuesday: Real Estelí vs. Sporting KC at Estadio Independencia (9 p.m. on Fox Soccer Plus)
Aug. 26: Saprissa vs. Real Estelí at Estadio Ricardo Saprissa Ayma
Sept. 18: Sporting KC vs Saprissa at Sporting Park
Sept. 23: Sporting KC vs. Real Estelí at Sporting Park
Oct. 23: Saprissa vs. Sporting KC at Estadio Ricardo Saprissa Ayma
As a franchise, Kansas City is 7-9-7 overall in international competitions and have never beaten a Costa Rican side — in 2005, the Wizards lost a two-leg series to Saprissa in the CONCACAF Champions Cup.