CCL Journal: Nicaragua Edition

At Sporting Kansas City, we are committed to bringing you in-depth coverage of your favorite team; whether that's at Sporting Park, on the road in New York or Seattle, or in another country that's 3,000 miles away.

So as the club prepares to kick off its 2013-14 CONCACAF Champions League campaign on Wednesday with a road match at Real Esteli (9pm CT, FOX Soccer Plus), we are prepared to bring you along for the ride with our CCL Journal: Nicaragua Edition. Over the next 48 hours, we'll be posting updates from the team's trip to Nicaragua as well as providing links to articles previewing the match both home and abroad.

Our man on the ground Kurt Austin (give him a follow @kaustin01) will provide us updates on the team's journey that begins Tuesday morning with a pit-stop in Brownsville, Texas, and ends Thursday morning when the team touches back down in Kansas City.

Also, be sure to follow @SportingKC on Twitter and Facebook for the latest news surrouding the Sporting KC organization.

8/8/13 - 1:30PM - One final note of acknowledgement for all those who accommodated Sporting KC on our trip to Nicaragua. A special thanks goes to the staff at Real Intercontinental Metrocentro Managua and Hotel Los Arcos in Esteli; the crew at Signature Flight Support who made our charter possible; the MarcoPolo coach line operators and local law enforcement for assisting with transportation during our stay; and the representatives from Real Esteli and CONCACAF who hosted us with the utmost professionalism. The trip was a successul one both on and off the field thanks to the work of all of these parties.

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8/8/13 - 9:30AM - Well that was fun ... 48 hours later and the team has returned with three points and in first place in their Champions League group. We've got full coverage of the match (recap, highlights, quotes) on the site. Our Champions League journey will continue in two weeks when we head to Honduras for an important road match against Olimpia. We'll continue to bring you behind-the-scenes coverage from our CCL journey and we hope to see everyone at Sporting Park on Saturday!

8/7/13 - 6:00PM - The view from inside the locker room, with the team set to arrive in 30 minutes.

8/7/13 - 5:30PM - Estadio Independencia, the stage for tonight's CCL clash between Sporting KC and Real Esteli FC, could easily deceive you. One's initial impressions, from the exterior, are nothing noteworthy. Step inside and you'll quickly lose the urge to underestimate your surroundings. Perhaps more than most venues, I suspect Estadio Independencia is a place that will take on a life of its own when filled with the passion and support of thousands.

The field, synthetic turf as we've mentioned, is framed by fans on three sides; all but behind the team benches. Both goals are backed by terrace-style stands, while the sideline opposite the benches is a dozen rows of traditional stadium seating with the middle third covered by a metal roof.

A quick walk of the field suggests dimensions are in the ballpark of 110 yards long by 75 yards wide, more than adequate by international standards. The locker room, while primitive, serves its function in space and accomodations; 24 hooks hang on the wall above one continuous bench, a treatment table, showers and restrooms. The technical area provides seating for 10 beneath the covered benches, with four plastic chairs arranged for extra personnel.

Ultimately, the stadium oozes a cultural charm and more simplistic soul of the sport. It's no Sporting Park to be sure, but there's something to be said for grounds such as these. They don't get much more soccer-specific than this.

8/7/13 - 3:30PM - Pre-game meal complete. The only thing between now and kickoff is 4.5 hours of anxious anticipation. Four games. Three teams. Only one advances. It all starts at 9pm CT live on FOX Soccer Plus.

8/7/12 - 3:15PM - For those concerned about security on a trip like this, have no fear. According to this report from Telenorte, there will be 238 police officers and 40 anti-riot officers at the match tonight. Rest easy, SKC Nation, your boys are in good hands.

8/7/13 - 3:00PM - Go time. Equipment is being packed up and taken to Estadio Independencia ahead of the team's arrival in three hours time. I'm hopping aboard the bus for a sneak peek inside the venue. One last video to hold everyone over until we're live on location...

8/7/13 - 2:30PM - Tickets for tonight's match range from 200-500 Cordobas ($8-20). Real Esteli FC's first match of the Apertura season on Saturday, a 2-1 victory, was free to attend for all fans as the team was awarded their championship trophy for the previous season. To get a sense of what tonight's action could look like at Estadio Independencia, check out the videos below from the club's two home CCL matches during last year's tournament...

8/7/13 - 1:45PM - Need a crash course on Nicaraguan soccer? We'll let our friends at KICKTV take that task with a pair of videos from last year...

8/7/13 - 1:30PM - Just under seven hours to kickoff and the referees are inspecting the field. Sporting KC will see an all Panamanian crew tonight led by Jafeth Perea as the center referee. Gabriel Victoria and Juan Baines are the assistant referees and Luis Rodriguez is the fourth official. In Perea's career, he has handed out 34 yellow cards, five red cards and awarded two penalty kicks.

8/7/13 - 1:15PM - Oriol Rosell spotted in today's local newspaper, accompanying an article which raised a few eyebrows...particularly this claim: "For Esteli, optimism is high. They think they can pull a surprise and favorable outcome because they believe that (Sporting KC) is the weakest opponent they have faced." For the view from Sporting KC's side, check out Tod Palmer's article in today's Kansas City Star, Brian Straus' piece for Sports Illustrated and Kyle McCarthy on FOX Soccer.

8/7/13 - 12:30PM - Welcome to Esteli, Sporting KC's home for the next 11 hours. Esteli is the third largest city in Nicaragua with a population of over 112,000 (as of the 2005 census). The 2.5 hour bus ride from Managua passed quickly and you can sense a buzz around the town for tonight's CCL opener.

8/7/13 - 10:00AM - En route to Esteli!

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8/7/13 - 9:30AM - Omelet bar was, by far, the most popular choice at the team's breakfast this morning. Hydration continues to be emphasized and maintaining gameday routines despite the new environment is also a talking point. The players are in good spirits and focused on the challenge ahead.

Sporting KC is the first American team to face Real Esteli FC, though two other current MLS clubs have matched up with the Nicaraguan champs. Montreal (2008) and Toronto (2011) each earned victories over tonight's opponent in recent years in CCL play.

Sporting KC has matched up with clubs from six different nations (Canada, Mexico, Costa Rica, Trinidad & Tobago, Ecuador, Peru) in competitive matches entering tonight's game in Nicaragua. The team is competing internationally for the first time since 2009 and outside the U.S. in international play for the first time since 2005. The team has twice won on foreign soil in international competition, winning in Ecuador in 2001 and in Trindad & Tobago in 2002.

8/7/13 - 8:30AM - Tonight's match will air live on FOX Soccer Plus and FOX Soccer 2Go with Steve Cangialosi and Cobi Jones calling the action from the FOX Soccer studios in Los Angeles. Steve was part of the NBC Sports Network crew at Sporting Park this past Saturday and Cobi brings the voice of first hand experience, having played many a match in Central America as the U.S. Men's National Team's all-time appearance leader (164). Looking for a place to watch the match in Kansas City? Johnny's Tavern in the KC Power & Light District and Futbol Club Eatery & Tap in Overland Park are always two good options.

8/7/13 - 8:00AM - The 2013-14 CONCACAF Champions League officially kicked off last night with the first two matches in the 62-game tournament. Toluca (Mexico) defeated Caledonia AIA (Trinidad & Tobago) 3-1 in Group 6, while Luis Angel Firpo (El Salvador) held Tijuana (Mexico) to a scoreless draw in Group 7. Check out CONCACAF's video preview for this year's tournament...

8/7/13 - 7:30AM - Gameday! 364 days after Sporting Kansas City booked their spot in the CONCACAF Champions League with the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup championship, the team will take the field in Esteli, Nicaragua tonight at 9pm CT as the quest to conquer CONCACAF begins. Required reading:

Match Preview | Scouting Report | By the Numbers | Game Notes | CCL Group Stage

8/6/13 - 9:00PM - Full credit to the cooks at our team hotel. Served up another great meal, featuring the standard night-before-game menu of soup, salmon and chicken. Soony Saad was the first through the buffet line (shown below), but what you can't see is his Vermes' Army t-shirt that the Sporting KC manager made sure to call attention to when addressing the team.

8/6/13 - 8:30PM - We definitely are not playing at Sporting Park tomorrow. According to this tweet from Real Esteli's Twitter account, the club is bringing in some extra power systems for the game tomorrow.

8/6/13 - 8:00PM - Twenty-four hours until kickoff. The journey begins...

8/6/13 - 7:30PM - Baseball, not soccer, is cited as the most popular sport in Nicaragua and today's front page news is the suspension of San Diego Padres All-Star shortstop Everth Cabrera, Nicaragua's Professional Sports Athlete of the Year in 2009. He is one of 13 Nicaragua natives to play professionally in Major League Baseball, including four to do so in the 2013 season, and there are sure to be more in the future. One of the Kansas City Royals top prospects is Nicaraguan third basemen Cheslor Cuthbert, who is currently playing at Class AA Northwest Arkansas.

8/6/13 - 7:00PM - Sporting KC traveled 19 players to Nicaragua for tomorrow night's match. The players were split into two groups for a workout, consisting of cardio and a light lift, at the team hotel this evening led by fitness coach Mateus Manoel.

8/6/13 - 6:30PM - No one can say the Nicaraguan media is not taking this game seriously. Telenorte, which was one of the many outlets to meet Sporting Kansas City at the Managua airport, snapped this photo of Mechack Jerome getting on the team bus. They also spoke with Peter Vermes and Claudio Bieler who both insisted that Real Esteli is a strong team and that Sporting KC is not taking this match lightly. Click here for the complete story (in Spanish).

8/6/13 - 5:30PM -- This was the scene at Aeropuerto Internacional Augusto C. Sandino upon our arrival. Media anxiously awaiting interviews with Claudio Bieler and Peter Vermes.

8/6/13 - 5:00PM -- Quick commute to the hotel courtesy of a police escort. The culinary team has a fresh meal awaiting the players and staff upon arrival to the hotel.

8/6/13 - 4:30PM - We have arrived! The club has landed in Managua and is on its way to the hotel. The sun is out right now, but storms are expected to roll through this afternoon. We'll post a few photos when we get to the hotel!

8/6/13 - 11:45AM - One leg down, one leg to go. Plane touches down in Brownsville, TX to top off the fuel tank. Players out to stretch their legs while @KitmanSKC and Zoran Savic pose for a pic on the tarmac.

8/6/13 - 11:30 AM - Despite being the underdog in the group, Real Esteli is full of confidence heading into Wednesday's showdown with Sporting Kansas City.  Midfielder Juan Barrera, who has also enjoyed a recent stint with the Nicaraguan national team, was recently quoted as saying that Sporting KC has not been anything special this year and that his team is ready to surprise people. Get the full story from (in Spanish) here.

8/6/13 - 9:00AM - Aboard the charter. Vermes and Zavagnin riding in front row...@kaustin01 in back row. About right. Wheels up!

8/6/13 - 8:45AM - Jimmy Nielsen gets a "Happy Birthday" serenade as the White Puma and Sporting KC captain turns 36 today. All players and staff accounted for, passports checked.

8/6/13 - 7:30AM - Bags are packed and passport in hand. Brushed up on my Nicaraguan news last night. Did you know their president offered asylum to Edward Snowden? Or that a Chinese businessman wants to build a canal across the country from the Caribbean Sea to the Pacific Ocean? Now you do. Adios!

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