Preview: Sporting visits Monterrey in first leg of Champions League Semifinals on Thursday

Sporting Kansas City at CF Monterrey
Thursday, April 4, 2019 | 9 p.m. CT
Estadio BBVA Bancomer | Guadalupe, Mexico
2019 Scotiabank Concacaf Champions League
Semifinals | Leg One

Broadcast Schedule:
English Stream |, Yahoo Sports App
Spanish TV | Univision Deportes
English Radio | Sports Radio 810 WHB
Spanish Radio | ESPN Deportes KC 1480 AM
Mobile | Sporting KC App

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Champions League CountdownHow to Watch Live | Match Notes | MatchCenter

The daunting climb up the Champions League mountain continues Thursday night when Sporting Kansas City visits Mexican powerhouse CF Monterrey in the first leg of the heralded tournament’s semifinals. Kickoff at the world-class Estadio BBVA Bancomer is set for 9 p.m. CT as Sporting and Rayados lock horns for the first time, hoping to build an aggregate lead heading into next week’s decisive return leg at Children’s Mercy Park.

Thursday’s high-stakes showdown will stream live in English on and the Yahoo Sports app, while Univision Deportes will air a Spanish-language telecast. Local listeners can also follow the action on Sports Radio 810 WHB (English) and ESPN Deportes KC 1480 AM (Spanish), with additional in-game updates and exclusive offers available on the new Sporting KC App.

Making their semifinal debut in North America’s premier club competition, Sporting are the only MLS team still alive in the Champions League field. Manager Peter Vermes’ side joins Liga MX heavyweights Monterrey, Santos Laguna and Tigres UANL in the final four, aiming to become the first MLS outfit to win the title since the tournament’s modern era began in 2008. Mexican clubs have ruled the Champions League with an iron fist by winning 11 consecutive editions, including Monterrey’s unprecedented run of three straight from 2011-2013.

Sporting will enter the series as a decided underdog, but recent form suggests Vermes’ men have what it takes to spring an upset. Goalkeeper Tim Melia and captain Matt Besler patrol a staunch backline that already has four shutouts this year, while heady veterans Roger Espinoza, Felipe Gutierrez and Ilie Sanchez form a seasoned midfield.

Further up the pitch, Dynamic wingers Gerso Fernandes and Johnny Russell have combined for five goals and seven assists in all competitions, and arguably no MLS striker is off to a better start in 2019 than Krisztian Nemeth, who has eight goals in seven competitive matches—including a joint-best four in the Champions League.

Monterrey’s current form is less impressive, as Rayados have gone four games without a win since thrashing Atlanta United FC in the first leg of the Champions League Quarterfinals on March 6. Nevertheless, head coach Diego Alonso wields a deep, star-studded squad that has history on its side: Rayados own an all-time best three Champions League titles—all collected during a dynastic reign at the start of the decade—and have the quality to add a fourth this time around.

Argentine forward Rogelio Funes Mori leads Monterrey with eight goals in Liga MX, while the likes of Aviles Hurtado, Maxi Meza and Dorlan Pabon round out a lethal attacking corps that ranks second in scoring offense in Liga MX. Rising talents Jonathan Gonzalez and Carlos Rodriguez add industry to the midfield, and a stingy backline features physical center backs Cesar Montes and Nicolas Sanchez as well as attack-minded fullbacks and Mexican internationals Miguel Layun and Jesus Gallardo. Rayados currently occupy third place in Liga MX with a 6-1-5 record.

Monterrey are a remarkable 29-6-7 in the Champions League since 2010 (17-2-2 at home) and 7-2-1 in the tournament against MLS foes. Furthermore, Rayados are 41-5-20 all-time in Liga MX regular season games played at Estadio BBVA Bancomer, which opened in 2015 and is slated to host World Cup matches in 2026. The state-of-the-art venue has landed the nickname “El Gigante de Acero,” Spanish for “The Steel Giant,” due to its stunning exterior aesthetics, and on Thursday night as many as 53,500 fans could pack the stadium for the all-important battle.

Sporting are 1-4-0 all-time in competitive matches played on Mexican soil, but the lone win came just a month ago as Gerso and Nemeth scored in a comprehensive 2-0 win over Toluca to seal a 5-0 aggregate victory in the Round of 16. Kansas City has scored in each of its five previous trips to Mexico, and an away goal on Thursday could do wonders in their bid for a series triumph.

Neither team will be shorthanded on Thursday due to red card suspension or caution accumulation. However, a handful of players on both teams would miss the second leg next week at Children’s Mercy Park if they receive a first-leg yellow card.

For Sporting, that list consists of Nemeth, Gutierrez, Seth Sinovic and injured forward Daniel Salloi. Should any of them pick up a caution on Thursday, they will be forced to miss the return fixture in Kansas City. Monterrey’s yellow card warnings belong to Gallardo, Meza, Sanchez and winger Rodolfo Pizarro, plus seldom-used forward Adam Bareiro.

Mirroring the format of the Round of 16 and Quarterfinals, the away goals rule will be applied in the Champions League Semifinals if the aggregate score is tied after the second leg. For instance, if Sporting draws Monterrey 1-1 on the road in the first leg and 0-0 at home in the second leg, Sporting will advance by virtue of away goals. If the teams are still level on away goals, a penalty shootout will determine the winner and 30 minutes of extra time will not be played.