Recap: Sporting KC secures 1-0 victory over Cruz Azul in CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal

Sporting Kansas City will enter the second leg of the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals ahead on aggregate after the team's 1-0 victory over Cruz Azul on Wednesday at Sporting Park. Homegrown defender Kevin Ellis scored the decisive goal in the 17th minute on an assist from Designated Player Claudio Bieler.

Eric Kronberg recorded his fourth shutout of the tournament, most among all goalkeepers in the competition and most by a Sporting KC player all-time in international competition, and lowered his goals against average in the CCL to 0.20 with only one goal allowed in five games. Sporting Kansas City and Cruz Azul will meet again in the return leg at 9 p.m. CT on March 19 at Estadio Azul in Mexico City with a berth in the semifinals at stake.

Ellis, making his Champions League debut with the fourth career competitive start in four professional seasons, delivered the game's defining moment with the first shot on goal of the game. Receiving a first-time pass from Bieler along the left edge of the penalty area, Ellis cut past Gerardo Flores and beat Jose Corona with a right-footed shot just inside the near post.

The 17th-minute goal is Ellis' second of his career with both coming against Mexican opposition. In 2011, the Oak Park High School alum scored against CD Guadalajara in an international friendly held at Sporting Park.

Though Cruz Azul would not attempt their first shot of the match until the 30th minute, Marco Fabian broke behind the Sporting KC backline in the 24th minute and was poised to go 1-v-1 with Kronberg only to see Ike Opara recover in time to intervene. On the opposite end, Opara made a roaming run forward in the 33rd minute and tested Corona from distance, forcing the Mexican National Team regular to tip the effort over the crossbar.

On the ensuing corner from Graham Zusi, Ellis won the header and nearly set up Benny Feilhaber for a poacher's finish. However, Corona made his presence felt with a sliding stop inside the six-yard box.

Sporting Kansas City continued to attack and nearly doubled their lead in the 44th minute through Bieler. The South American striker ran at Luis Amaranto , turning the defender inside then out, and forced a sprawling save as Corona extended to his left to get a glove on the shot.

The visitors best chance of the opening half came in stoppage time as Christian Gimenez made a dangerous run down the left flank only to send his shot wide of the far post. Cruz Azul, currently in first place in Liga MX with an 8-1-1 record in the Clausura, nearly pulled level with back-to-back scoring opportunities in the early stages of the second half.

Mariano Pavone dribbled around Kronberg in the 55th minute and sent his shot goal-bound only to have Opara again thwart La Maquina with his last-second clearance in front of the goalline. An undaunted Cruz Azul attack would come close to capitalizing from the following corner kick if not for the alert play by Feilhaber and Seth Sinovic to deny Fabian's header.

Sporting Kansas City were inches away from adding a second goal when Zusi's shot struck the crossbar in the 64th minute. The MLS All-Star and U.S. Men's National Team playmaker threatened again 20 minutes later, requiring Corona to rush off his line to disrupt the developing breakaway.

The victory -- the club's second all-time against a Mexican opponent and first since the 2002 CONCACAF Champions' Cup -- keeps Sporting KC unbeaten in the competition at 3-0-2 moving into next week's rematch. Three players who featured on Wednesday will miss the second leg due to caution accumulation as Seth Sinovic, Rogelio Chavez and Alejandro Castro all received their second yellow cards of the tournament.

Next week's match will air live on FOX Sports 2 (English) and Galavision (Spanish). For more information on the CONCACAF Champions League, visit SportingKC.com/CCL.

Sporting Park | Kansas City, Kan.
Attendance: 18,467
Weather: 54 degrees and partly cloudy

Score

1

2

F

Sporting Kansas City

1

0

1

Cruz Azul

0

0

0

Sporting Kansas City: Eric Kronberg; Seth Sinovic, Matt Besler (c), Ike Opara, Kevin Ellis; Oriol Rosell, Paulo Nagamura, Benny Feilhaber (C.J. Sapong 76); Graham Zusi, Claudio Bieler (Dom Dwyer 88), Sal Zizzo (Jacob Peterson 60)

Subs Not Used: Andy Gruenebaum, Josh Gardner, Lawrence Olum, Jimmy Medranda

Cruz Azul: Jesus Corona (c); Gerardo Flores, Julio Dominguez, Luis Amaranto, Rogelio Chavez; Mauro Formica, Christian Gimenez, Alejandro Castro; Joao Rojas, Mariano Pavone, Marco Fabian

Subs Not Used: Guillermo Allison, Sergio Napoles, Michael Farfan, Jairo Villeda, Manuel Madrid, Ismael Valadez, Diego Martinez

Stats

SKC

CAZ

Shots

9

7

Shots on Goal

4

3

Saves

1

3

Fouls   

22

16

Offside

1

3

Corner Kicks

6

5

Misconduct Summary:
CAZ - Rogelio Chavez (caution; reckless foul) 23
SKC - Kevin Ellis (caution; unsporting behavior) 45
CAZ - Luis Amaranto (caution; tactical foul) 75
SKC -- Seth Sinovic (caution; delaying a restart) 77
SKC -- C.J. Sapong (caution; unsporting behavior) 90
CAZ - Alejandro Castro (caution; unsporting behavior) 90

Scoring Summary:
SKC -- Kevin Ellis (Claudio Bieler) 17

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