CONCACAF Champions League logo on videoboard
Jeremy Flowers

Sporting Park faithful get first glimpse of CONCACAF Champions League

Whether you just tuned in Tuesday night for Sporting KC’s match against Real Esteli, or you’ve been following Sporting’s success in the CONCACAF Champions League since its first game in the tournament on Aug. 7, there are a few things to know about the tournament as Sporting KC hopes to continue to the quarterfinal round.

The CONCACAF Champions League is made up of 24 teams from 11 soccer associations in North America, Central America and the Caribbean competing toward a common goal: to earn a berth to the FIFA Club World Cup in Dec. 2014.

So, for beginners -- which included me until very recently -- CONCACAF simply stands for the Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football.

The 24 teams from the CONCACAF Champions League are split into eight groups for the group stage of the tournament, which spans nine months (August 2013-April 2014).

The U.S. accounts for four of the 24 teams each year with the 2012 MLS Cup champions (LA Galaxy), 2012 MLS Cup runners-up (Houston Dynamo), 2012 Open Cup Champions (Sporting KC) and 2012 Supporters’ Shield Champions (San Jose Earthquakes) all qualifying for the tournament.

“It’s a good competition,” midfielder Benny Feilhaber said. “And it’s much different than MLS. The style of play that you play against in Central America and Mexico is a little different, and sometimes it takes a little while to get used to it.”

Along with Sporting KC in Group 2 are CD Olimpia (Honduras) and Real Esteli (Nicaragua). Last night, at Sporting Park, Sporting tied Real Esteli 1-1 after an exhilarating 90 minutes where Sporting out-shot Real Esteli 16-5.

“If you don’t play a team like this week in and week out, you don’t know what their tendencies are, so individual duals need to be won,” Sporting KC Manager Peter Vermes said after Tuesday night’s game. “I thought we controlled the game – possession, chances – we had more than enough chances to put the game away and we didn’t.”

Despite last night’s draw, Sporting KC (2-0-1) sits atop Group 2 as it clinched wins on the road at both CD Olimpia (1-1-0) and Real Esteli (0-2-1) in August. Sporting’s next game in the tournament is at home on Oct. 23 against CD Olimpia at 7 p.m. CT.

Leading the group with seven points so far, Sporting KC will just a draw against Olimpia next month to advance to the quarterfinals of the CONCACAF Champions League.

“It’s a chance to represent our league against different teams in the region,” Sporting KC defender Matt Besler said, “There has never been an MLS team that’s won it. We take pride in advancing out of our group and hopefully advancing far in the knockout rounds.”

The eight group winners will go on to play in the quarterfinals which take place in March of 2014. The winner of the CONCACAF Champions League will then move on to the FIFA Club World Cup.

The last time an MLS team won a CONCACAF-wide tournament was the LA Galaxy in 2000, and they were only the second team in MLS history (the first was D.C. United in 1998) to do so.

But, as Besler said, an MLS team has never gone all the way to the FIFA Club World Cup, and when it’s all said and done, that opportunity is what is on the line.