Sporting Kansas City are less than 48 hours away from the toughest ask of their Concacaf Champions League campaign: CF Monterrey.
Sporting staff and players have repeatedly called Los Rayados the best team left in the competition during the run-up to this semifinal matchup, which opens on Thursday night (9 p.m. CT | UDN, YahooSports.com).
What makes them so good?
“No disrespect to Tigres, but for us, Monterrey is the best team, right now,” said Sporting captain Matt Besler this week.
“So it’s going to be a major challenge for us. It’s a challenge that we’re looking forward to,” he continued. “But we know that Monterrey has a lot of quality. They’re a difficult team to play against, and they have a lot of experience at this stage of the tournament, and that’s something that we don’t have.”
Monterrey have been successful, both in the Champions League and Liga MX, for a long time. They won three straight CCL titles from 2011 to 2013, and recently almost won the Mexican Apertura in 2018. Blessed with elite talent and an effective system, they’ve been in the big moments and won, time and time again.
“They’re a very good team at home, but they’re also good on the road too,” Besler said. “I think that’s where experience comes into play the most. When you go on the road, how do you manage the game and how do you grind out the result?
“You have to know exactly what you need out of the game, whether it’s away goals or the score, and they just seem to really be locked in, into that element of the home and away series. It’s probably why they’ve been so successful in these types of tournaments.”
Monterrey are resolute defensively, but also sport an incredible attack, with a dynamic front three led by Rogelio Funes Mori and Dorlan Pabon. But Sporting Manager Peter Vermes sees the work ethic from Monterrey all over the field, not just from their front line.
“I think first, they’re willing to take the risk,” Vermes said. “When you take the risk, a lot of it is you have to be willing to do the physical work too. You have to run to get there. So that’s why I say they’re a mentally tough team because on both sides of the ball they work very hard. And you have to be mentally tough to be able to do that. That doesn’t have to do with just the guys you mentioned [Pabon, Funes Mori], it’s the whole team.”
So what do Sporting have to do to get the right result on Thursday night?
“For us to be almost perfect,” Vermes said. “We have to be good on all fronts, we have to be strong. We have to be good physically, we have to be good with the ball, we have to be really smart tactically, we have to manage the game at moments, all of it. We just have to be at a really, really high level.”