Sporting Kansas City and Deportivo Toluca FC are on a collision course, the outcome of which will be decided when the clubs meet in the 2019 Scotiabank Concacaf Champions League Round of 16. Sporting will host the first leg of the aggregate-goal series on Feb. 21 at Children’s Mercy Park before venturing to Mexico for the decisive second leg on Feb. 28. In the buildup to this titanic battle, SportingKC.com will provide weekly updates on Los Diablos Rojos as part of the site’s Tracking Toluca series. For more information about North America’s premier club tournament, visit our 2019 Champions League page.
The famous proverb of Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu has lasted two and a half thousand years and been applied in countless scenarios throughout the Eastern and Western world.
“Know thy self, know thy enemy.”
On the brink of making their first Concacaf Champions League appearances since 2016, Sporting can apply this maxim to their upcoming matchup with Toluca, one of Mexico’s most storied clubs of all time.
Manager Peter Vermes’ side will begin preseason training in Scottsdale on Jan. 14 with the objective of gaining the match fitness, tactical balance, team chemistry and mental solidarity required to continue their winning ways in 2019. Toluca, on the other hand, are ahead of schedule.
Los Diablos Rojos — in English, the Red Devils — kicked off their 2019 Clausura season in Liga MX on Friday night, easing to an impressive 3-1 away win over Morelia. This gives Sporting KC players, coaches and fans alike the opportunity to study up on their Champions League foes from Central Mexico over the next several weeks. Let's dig in, shall we?
Match Summary: Morelia 1-3 Toluca
Argentine striker Enrique Triverio paced Toluca with a hat-trick, scoring twice before halftime after Morelia had grabbed an early lead through Ray Sandoval. Triverio bagged his third of the night in the 75th minute to seal the victory and deliver a statement that, despite the club’s recent attacking departures, los Diablos Rojos have plenty of firepower up front.
Friday’s game included starts for Toluca holding midfielder Antonio Rios and goalkeeper Alfredo Talavera as well as a late substitute cameo from winger Carlos Esquivel. All three players have logged more than 350 competitive appearances for Toluca as unmistakable faces of the club for the last decade plus.
Coincidentally, this fixture was a rematch of a 2017 Copa MX matchup that garnered international attention when three Toluca players were sent off in the space of 32 seconds, which resulted in an eight-game suspension for Triverio and a subsequent referee strike in Liga MX.
Starting XI in 4-2-3-1 formation (R-L): Alfredo Talavera; Richard Ruiz (Cristian Borja 82), Osvaldo Gonzalez, Adrian Mora, Santiago Garcia; Antonio Rios, William; Luis Mendoza (Carlos Esquivel 72), Pablo Barrientos, Alexis Canelo (Alan Medina 89); Enrique Triverio
Subs not used: Luis Garcia, Hector Acosta, Leonel Lopez, Diego Abella
As alluded to above, Toluca have been forced to replace their leading scorer in two straight Liga MX tournaments, as Fernando Uribe’s exit in June 2018 was followed by Alexis Vega’s transfer to Chivas de Guadalajara last month.
The latter move prompted Toluca to make two high-profile signings prior to Friday’s Liga MX curtain raiser. On Wednesday, the club landed a double-swoop with the additions of 31-year-old Argentine striker Emmanuel Gigliotti and 28-year-old Colombian winger Felipe Pardo.
Gigliotti has bagged nearly 150 goals as a professional and, prior to his transfer to Toluca, led the 2018-19 Argentine Primera Division with 12 goals in 15 games for Independiente. Pardo, who has been capped three times by Colombia, boasts European experience with Portugal’s Braga, Olympiacos in Greece and Nantes in France.
The 21-year-old Vega led Toluca with six goals during the 2018 Apertura before transferring to current Concacaf Champions League title holders Guadalajara. Elsewhere, former captain and 35-year-old Rubens Sambueza recently moved to fellow Mexican side Leon, while 27-year-old Luis Quinones—who had a team-best five assists in the 2018 Apertura—ended his loan spell and returned to Tigres UANL.
Hernan Cristante has gained club legend status in Toluca. As a player, his 419 appearances from 1993-2010 rank third in club history. During this time, los Diablos Rojos won five Liga MX titles and the 2003 Concacaf Champions’ Cup.
The 49-year-old Cristante took coaching reigns at Toluca in May 2016, which incredibly makes him the second-longest tenured manager in Liga MX. He has led Toluca to the playoffs in each of the last four tournaments (2017 Clausura, 2017 Apertura, 2018 Clausura and 2018 Apertura).
Under Cristante’s guidance, Toluca went close to winning two trophies in 2018 as they finished runners-up in both the Clausura Copa MX in April and the Clausura playoffs in May. The most recent 2018 Apertura campaign saw Toluca go 8-8-3 (6-2-2 at home and 2-6-1 away) to finish in seventh place. Los Diablos Rojos fell to eventual champion Club America in the Apertura quarterfinals in early December.