The month of February has arrived, and with that comes a monumental showdown between Sporting Kansas City and Deportivo Toluca FC in the 2019 Scotiabank Concacaf Champions League Round of 16. Sporting KC will host the first leg at Children’s Mercy Park on Feb. 21 before traveling to Mexico for the decisive second leg on Feb. 28. Tickets to the contest at Children’s Mercy Park are now on sale at SeatGeek.com as Sporting hosts its earliest competitive match in club history.
In the 20 days leading up to Feb. 21, SportingKC.com will rattle off a 20-day Champions League Countdown, hitting all the relevant storylines surrounding the two-legged fixture. From history and geography lessons to number crunching, player matchups and coaching backgrounds, this daily series will set the stage for a pivotal battle in which two successful sides aim to take their first steps toward Champions League glory.
With Sporting Kansas City’s trip to Toluca comes a visit to one of the most storied soccer venues in Mexico.
The 30,000-seat Estadio Nemesio Diez has earned multiple monikers since its opening in 1954, the most prevalent of which are “La Bombonera” and “El Infierno.” Translated into English as “The Chocolate Box” and “Hell,” these contrasting nicknames paint an appropriate picture of any given home matchday for Deportivo Toluca FC: an occasion to be relished for the hosts, and oftentimes one to dread for the visitors.
The stadium’s inauguration coincided with Toluca’s rise into the top flight of Mexican soccer. The club was founded in 1917 and participated in several amateur competitions, but didn’t become a fully professional side until 1950. Toluca earned promotion to Mexico’s Primera Division three years later, and they have stayed in the first division ever since.
Estadio Nemesio Diez, Mexico’s sixth-oldest and 13th-largest soccer stadium still in existence, officially opened on Aug. 8, 1954. It was built on the same site that the club had been playing at for many years, just a short walk southeast of Toluca’s city center.
The stadium was first known as Estadio Hector Barraza and later Estadio Luis Gutierrez Dosal—named after a legendary former player and club president, respectively—until 1970.
Hosting Two World Cups
The hallowed venue boasts the rare distinction of hosting matches at two separate FIFA World Cups, first in 1970 and then in 1986. Its marquee contest during the 1970 edition was a quarterfinal between Mexico and Italy, which the hosts lost by a 4-1 scoreline. During this time, the stadium switched its name twice—first to Estadio Toluca 70, then to Estadio Toluca 70-86. Nemesio Diez Riega, by the way, served as the club's president from 1953-1972 to earn the current namesake.
Much like the Chicago Cubs’ Wrigley Field baseball stadium, Estadio Nemesio Diez was long nuanced as a venue that didn’t have lighting. Thus began the tradition of Toluca playing all of its home games at high noon. This practice has continued into present day, as Los Diablos Rojos play the majority of their Liga MX home fixtures Sunday at noon local time.
In late 2015, Toluca announced a $400 million-dollar renovation project that would significantly revamp Estadio Nemesio Diez. The remodeled stadium officially opened on Jan. 15, 2017 with a Liga MX battle against Club America, which Toluca won 2-1. Remarkably, the re-opening coincided with Toluca’s 100-year anniversary as a club.
The stadium upgrade saw four large support columns erected in each corner of the stadium, allowing for better visibility in all areas of the venue. The project also included a capacity increase of 3,000 and four giant sun screens perched above each end of the stadium, giving a fraction of fans more shade during the oppressively hot spring and fall months.
Toluca’s climate is the coolest of any large Mexican city due to its altitude of 8,750 feet above sea level. At this time of year, evening temperatures frequently drop into the 30s. Daytime, however, sees temperatures break into the 60s and 70s throughout January and February. The Champions League clash between Sporting and Toluca, played on a natural grass surface, will kick off at 9 p.m. local time (and Central Time).
A History of Success
Toluca certainly haven’t lacked for silverware during their stay at Estadio Nemesio Diez. Los Diablos Rojos have won 10 league titles since 1967, third-most in Mexican soccer history, to go with two Copa Mexico triumphs (1956 and 1989) and two Concacaf Champions’ Cups (1968 and 2003).