Five Things, presented by Keith + Associates Dentistry, is a weekly series on SportingKC.com that highlights the top storylines, players to watch and matchday programming ahead of each game throughout the season.
With their sights firmly set on finishing the job, Sporting Kansas City take a 3-0 aggregate lead into the second leg of the Concacaf Champions League Round of 16 against Deportivo Toluca FC on Thursday night. Kickoff is slated for 9 p.m. CT at Estadio Nemesio Diez in Toluca, Mexico, as two teams battle for a place in the quarterfinals.
Thursday’s contest will stream live in English on YahooSports.com and the Yahoo Sports app while airing live in Spanish on Univision Deportes. Sports Radio 810 WHB and ESPN Deportes KC 1480 AM will carry the game locally, and the new Sporting KC app will provide in-game updates and exclusive offers.
Sporting raced out to a superb start in last week’s first-leg win at Children’s Mercy Park, but the task at hand remains far from over and far from easy. Without further ado, here are five things you absolutely must know about the second-leg showdown.
1. One for the Record Books
Manager Peter Vermes’ side made history in their 3-0 beatdown of Toluca at Children’s Mercy Park, becoming just the second American or MLS team to defeat a Mexican side by at least three goals in Concacaf Champions League history. This tournament, mind you, dates back to 1962 and is currently in its 54th edition.
Krisztian Nemeth, Gerso Fernandes and Ilie Sanchez bagged goals in a one-sided affair, prompting further suggestions that Major League Soccer is closing the quality gap on Liga MX. Pure statistics would suggest the same thing: MLS teams are 7-4-2 in 13 head-to-head Champions League meetings with Mexican foes since 2018, having gone just 13-42-19 from 2008-2017.
2. Second-leg Scenarios
With a 3-0 home triumph in the books, how can Sporting win the series and advance to the quarterfinals? In short, a win, draw or loss by two or fewer goals would do the trick. A three-goal defeat in which Sporting scores at least once (4-1, 5-2, 6-3, etc.) would also see Vermes’ men advance on the away goals tiebreaker. Toluca, meanwhile, have much more work to do. Los Diablos Rojos would advance with a four-goal win, while a 3-0 victory would force penalty kicks.
Keep in mind: the round of 16, quarterfinals and semifinals of the Champions League operate differently than recent editions of the MLS Cup Playoffs. If Toluca win 3-0 to level the aggregate at 3-3, the match will go straight to penalty kicks and 30 minutes of extra time will not be played.
3. What’s at Stake
What lies within touching distance for Sporting? First and foremost, a spot in the Champions League quarterfinals against Independiente of Panama. Making their tournament debut, Independiente earned a stunning 4-0 home win over Toronto FC last week and scrapped to a 1-1 draw at BMO Field on Tuesday to take the series 5-1 on aggregate. The Champions League quarterfinal fixtures will take place March 5-7 and March 12-14, with Sporting set to host the second leg should they get past Toluca.
On a broader level, Sporting can achieve something unprecedented on Thursday. In Concacaf Champions League and Concacaf Champions’ Cup history (1962-present), no American team has ever advanced against a Mexican opponent in a two-leg series with the second leg played in Mexico.
4. Tall Task
Sporting are in an advantageous position going into the second leg. Should they score at least once at Estadio Nemesio Diez, Toluca would need to win by a four-goal margin to win the series. Nevertheless, Vermes’ men know the challenge ahead of them remains daunting.
First, consider the fact that Sporting are 0-4-0 all-time in Mexico with five goals scored and 17 conceded. Estadio Nemesio Diez will undoubtedly be rocking as the Toluca faithful rally their squad in a comeback bid.
Secondly, consider the fact that Thursday’s match—played at a lung-busting altitude of 8,750 feet—is the highest-elevation match in club history. Simply put, this game will test the team’s fitness like nothing else has.
5. Adios, Hernan
A rough run of results for Toluca club legend Hernan Cristante ultimately proved too costly. The 49-year-old manager was relieved of his duties on Monday, a day after Toluca fell 4-0 at Santos Laguna, and was replaced by interim boss Jose Luis Real. Los Diablos Rojos are mired in a seven-game winless skid across all competitions—a dreadful stretch that includes six losses, one goal scored and 14 goals conceded.
Real, who serves as Toluca’s academy director, hasn’t managed a Liga MX side since presiding over Guadalajara for the 2014 Clausura season. Interestingly enough, the 66-year-old coached Chivas USA during the second half of the 2013 MLS season, finishing with a 3-12-6 record.
Keith + Associates Dentistry Fact
Roughly 75 percent of school children worldwide have active dental cavities.