Champions League

CCL Journal: Mexico Edition

Welcome back. Sporting Kansas City returns to the road in CONCACAF Champions League action which means it's time for another CCL journal! Over the next 48 hours, we'll bring you in-depth coverage of the club's journey to Mexico to take on Liga MX leaders Cruz Azul.

Wednesday's match is the decisive second leg in the quarterfinal round with Sporting KC holding a 1-0 lead on aggregate after last week's win at Sporting Park. The winner will advance to the semifinals, where either the LA Galaxy (USA) or Tijuana (MEX) will await, on the road to the FIFA Club World Cup.

The mid-week match will kick off at 9 p.m. CT from Estadio Azul in Mexico City and can be seen live on FOX Sports 2 (JP Dellacamera and Janusz Michallik) or Galavision (Spanish). The match will also be streamed online at FOXSoccer2Go.

Sporting Kansas City will host the team's official watch party at Johnny's Tavern in the KC Power & Light District, featuring food and drink specials that include Boulevard drafts and the "Blue Believer" signature cocktail.

Be sure to follow @SportingKC on Twitter and Facebook for all the latest behind-the-scenes access.


2:00PM on 3/18/14: And we're off! Sporting KC's bags are packed and the team is on their way to Mexico City for the second leg of the CCL quarterfinals. Did you know Sporting KC are tied for the fewest goals conceded in this season's CCL tournament? For more on the stats ahead of the second leg, check out our By The Numbers look at the two teams.


8:00PM on 3/18/14: Sporting Kansas City has arrived in Mexico City, 24 hours before tomorrow night's clash with Cruz Azul in the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals. Approximately 1,400 miles from Kansas City, the flight was shorter than the team's first road trip of the year to Seattle. And thanks to the charter, no connection or layover necessary. A well-coordinated arrival provided the travel delegation with a hassle-free first hour in the capital city as players and staff breezed through the necessary immigration and security measures before boarding the bus for a police escort to the hotel. All in time to keep a close eye on the LA Galaxy vs. Tijuana match (9 p.m. CT on FOX Sports 2 and Galavision in the United States) -- the winner of whom will advance to play either Sporting KC or Cruz Azul on the semifinal stage. Tune in!



9:45PM on 3/18/14: Dinner is served. The standard team meal of pasta with steamed vegetables, chicken and salmon was prepared to perfection and certainly appeared to pass the taste test based on the number of second servings. The private dining room was filled full with a considerably larger contingent of traveling staff. In addition to the players and coaches, other team representatives on the trip include:

Performance Analyst
Massage Therapist
Chiropractor
Physician
Athletic Trainer
Team Administrator
Equipment Managers (x2)
Communications (x2)
Security (x2)

And -- last, but certainly not least -- Sporting Club CEO Robb Heineman (@RobbHeineman).


9:00AM on 3/19/14: GAMEDAY! Sporting Kansas City is on the cusp of the CONCACAF Champions League semifinals and can reach the competition's final four with a win or draw (or one-goal, non-shutout loss; or 1-0 loss followed by extra time; or 1-0 loss followed by extra time followed by penalty kicks...but why complicate things) tonight at Estadio Azul. What we do know: Tijuana awaits. Xolos advanced 4-3 on aggregate after a 4-2 victory over the LA Galaxy last night.

Gameday reading material:

Match Preview | CCL Crash Course | Challenge Accepted | CCL Guide | Game Notes

810 WHB | The Full 90 | KC Star | Kick the Ball | The Blue Testament | Down the Byline


10:30AM on 3/19/14: Suffice to say, the media coverage in Mexico takes on a much more dramatic tone when it comes to tonight's CONCACAF Champions League encounter than anything linked to above. A headline in Mexico City's La Universal today:

Translation: Cruz Azul out to kill or be killed. The quote comes from forward Mauro Formica...

To avoid a failure in their aspirations to advance to semifinals in the Concacaf Champions League, the wheel of Cruz Azul, Argentina's Mauro Formica, said against Sporting Kansas City they must be out to kill or be killed.

"I believe that [it is kill or be killed] because it is a very important match and we want to get as high as possible in the League and in the Concachampions. It is a final for us and we want to overcome it."

Mexico's daily sports publication RÉCORD gave considerable coverage to the match, including this article with praise for the MLS Cup champions from Cruz Azul players:


11:45AM on 3/19/14: Loudest cheer at the team's breakfast this morning came upon the entrance of head athletic trainer Kenny Ishii, who is celebrating the birth of his second child today. His wife delivered overnight in Japan with Kenny anxiously awaiting news a hemisphere away in Mexico City. Much to his surprise, he's the proud father of a healthy baby girl. Kenny will travel to be with his family on Sunday.

Following the mid-morning meal, Manager Peter Vermes led the entire team through a brief film session to analyze tonight's opponent and highlight important elements of the team gameplan. Goalkeepers Eric Kronberg and Andy Gruenebaum then sat down with assistant coach John Pascarella for additional position-specific video review.

At 11 a.m. local time, the official match coordination meeting will be held with administrators from both clubs as well as CONCACAF representatives and the match officials. This gathering serves to go over all the operational procedures for the match, including stadium arrival, jersey selection, pre-game ceremony, event security, media obligations and much more.


1:30PM on 3/19/14: U.S. Men's National Team head coach Jurgen Klinsmann will have a close eye on the CONCACAF Champions League knockout rounds as he continues to evaluate his player pool with less than three months to the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil. Yesterday, he shared his hopes for Major League Soccer's representatives and his thoughts on the growing stature of the competition:

For another take on the tournament and tonight's match-up, check out this week's edition of Prep Talk with FOXSports.com MLS editor Kyle McCarthy.


4:00PM on 3/19/14: Five hours until kickoff. The squad is convening now for their pre-game meal while the team's equipment is being loaded onto the bus and sent to Estadio Azul to be set up in advance of the team's arrival. Yes, @KitManSKC has been called into duty -- give the guy a follow.

As we approach kickoff, two videos to share with insight into the action ahead. Simon Borg from MLSsoccer.com and our very own Callum Williams:


5:30PM on 3/19/14: On site at Estadio Azul, where we entered through the doors below this sign...

Proceeded down nearly 100 steps to the visitors locker room -- cozy comfines to put it politely...

...and finally walked out to this view:

Tickets for tonight's match cost 50 pesos (approximately $3.77) in conjunction with Cruz Azul's 50th anniversary of their first season in Mexico's top division and we're told they're expecting between 18,000 and 23,000 supporters (capacity is 35,161).

The grass pitch measures approximately 110 yards long by 75 yards wide. The stadium -- adjacent to a neighboring stadium used for bull fighting -- first opened in 1947 and has hosted several other Mexican clubs before Cruz Azul, including Club America, Necaxa and Atlante.


6:00PM on 3/19/14: A look around our "office" for the next five hours.


6:30PM on 3/19/14: A steady downpour has started at the stadium, raining on an otherwise ideal evening with temperatures in the mid-70's. Peter Vermes -- a coach who loves a good pre-game watering of the pitch -- is surely smiling. The local law enforcement -- more than 100 strong and in a perimeter around the supporters section -- aren't nearly as amused. They've resorted to using riot shields as a means to stay dry.


7:00PM on 3/19/14: Sporting Kansas City captain Matt Besler is the only field player to have played every minute for the club in the team's three games thus far in the 2014 campaign. He's also the only player on the team’s roster to have played in a competitive international match for the club prior to the 2013-14 CCL tournament. Besler started all three games in the 2009 North American Superliga, including a shutout of Mexico’s Atlas. The Overland Park, Kan. native is tied with Diego Gutierrez for the 10th most competitive international games started all-time and with a start tonight, will tie Francisco Gomez for 9th on the chart.

This morning, Besler joined The Border Patrol with Nate Bukaty and Steven St. John on Sports Radio 810 WHB. Listen to the audio archive below...


​7:30PM on 3/19/14: Welcome to the Blue Hell Stadium. Sporting Kansas City players and coaches have arrived at Estadio Azul, and are out on the pitch taking it all in before going through their pre-game routines. Lineups in 30 minutes...


8:00PM on 3/19/14: One. Hour. Away. Sporting Kansas City's starting lineup against Cruz Azul: Eric Kronberg; Kevin Ellis, Ike Opara, Matt Besler (c), Josh Gardner; Oriol Rosell, Paulo Nagamura, Benny Feilhaber; Jacob Peterson, Claudio Bieler, Graham Zusi

Manager Peter Vermes makes only two changes from the initial meeting one week ago: Gardner starts for the suspended Seth Sinovic (caution accumulation), while Peterson replaces Sal Zizzo on the left wing. Sporting KC is well known for playing a physically demanding style of soccer and "Sporting Fit" will be put to the test tonight in the altitude of Mexico City (7,350 feet above sea level). Throw in the prospect of extra time on top of an already grueling schedule -- tonight is the team's fourth of five games in a 15-day stretch -- and fitness will play an even larger part in securing the coveted road result.

Available on the bench will be offensive options in Dom Dwyer, C.J. Sapong and Sal Zizzo along with defensive cover from Lawrence Olum, Aurelien Collin and Mechack Jerome. Goalkeeper Andy Gruenebaum rounds out the reserves.


6:00AM on 3/20/14: The internet went down at Estadio Azul and so did Sporting Kansas City, suffering a 5-1 loss to end the team's run in the CONCACAF Champions League. Full match coverage is available via the SportingKC.com Game On page, including the match recap, postgame quotes, video highlights and more. Like most international adventures, the trip home wasn't without its interesting moments. The team's bus was pulled over by local police en route to the airport and once we arrived at Licenciado Adolfo López Mateos International, departure was delayed while security found a satisfactory solution to scanning the group's numerous oversized bags.

Sitting in the first row of the plane as we boarded was assistant coach Kerry Zavagnin, iPad in hand and reviewing game film ahead of Saturday's home match against San Jose. The Earthquakes too were eliminated in the CCL quarterfinals last night, falling in a penalty kick shootout at Toluca after a 1-1 draw through extra time.

A special thanks to Signature Flight and JW Marriott for their accomodations throughout the trip. And a sincere thanks to you, the reader, for following along. From Nicaragua to Honduras to Mexico, these journals provide a glimpse into Sporting Kansas City's journey...one that will continue in the 2014-15 CONCACAF Champions League group stage later this year.