Champions League Countdown | 19 Days: How Sporting KC (and MLS) have fared against Mexican foes

The month of February has arrived, and with that comes a monumental showdown between Sporting Kansas City and Deportivo Toluca FC in the 2019 Scotiabank Concacaf Champions League Round of 16. Sporting KC will host the first leg at Children’s Mercy Park on Feb. 21 before traveling to Mexico for the decisive second leg on Feb. 28. Tickets to the contest at Children’s Mercy Park are now on sale at as Sporting hosts its earliest competitive match in club history.

In the 20 days leading up to Feb. 21, will rattle off a 20-day Champions League Countdown, hitting all the relevant storylines surrounding the two-legged fixture. From history and geography lessons to number crunching, player matchups and coaching backgrounds, this daily series will set the stage for a pivotal battle in which two successful sides aim to take their first steps toward Champions League glory.

The second installment of the Champions League Countdown examines Sporting KC’s past performances against Mexican clubs plus the recent head-to-head battles between MLS and Liga MX foes. By studying the past and crunching the numbers, we begin to see just how daunting this test is for Manager Peter Vermes’ side. But with this challenge comes a sizeable opportunity to put Sporting KC on the international map and reach unchartered waters on the Champions League stage.

Sporting KC vs. Mexico

Feb. 21 will mark the first time Sporting has faced Mexican opposition in a competitive match since 2014, having also done so in 2001, 2002 and 2009.

As detailed in the table below, Sporting is 2-6-2 all-time versus Mexican clubs. The bleakest of stats? Kansas City is 0-4-0 on Mexican soil with five goals scored and 17 conceded. Sporting has managed to score at least once on each of their four trips south of the border, but have allowed multiple goals on each occasion.

A more encouraging factoid? Sporting are a respectable 2-2-2 versus Mexican sides at home, including a historic 2-0 win over Santos Laguna in the second leg of the 2002 Concacaf Champions' Cup quarterfinals and a 1-0 defeat of eventual tournament winners Cruz Azul in the first leg of the 2014 Champions League quarterfinals at Children's Mercy Park.

Sporting KC vs. Mexican opposition

Date Opponent Result Tournament Stage
08/08/2001 at Santos Laguna L 2-4 2001 Copa Merconorte Group
11/21/2001 SANTOS LAGUNA L 0-1 2001 Copa Merconorte Group
04/10/2002 at Santos Laguna L 1-2 2002 Concacaf Champions' Cup Quarterfinal Leg 1
04/24/2002 SANTOS LAGUNA W 2-0 2002 Concacaf Champions' Cup Quarterfinal Leg 2
08/07/2002 at Morelia L 1-6 2002 Concacaf Champions' Cup Semifinal Leg 1
08/28/2002 MORELIA T 1-1 2002 Concacaf Champions' Cup Semifinal Leg 2
06/21/2009 ATLAS FC T 0-0 2009 North American Superliga Group
06/28/2009 SANTOS LAGUNA L 1-3 2009 North American Superliga Group
03/12/2014 CRUZ AZUL W 1-0 2013-14 Concacaf Champions League Quarterfinal Leg 1
03/19/2014 at Cruz Azul L 1-5 2013-14 Concacaf Champions League Quarterfinal Leg 2

Given the remarkable difficulty of road trips to Mexico, it would seem imperative that Sporting secures a positive result in the home leg of their series against Toluca. Anything less than a draw on Feb. 21 would put Vermes' men in a must-win scenario heading to Estadio Nemesio Diez on Feb. 28, a game that will be played at a dizzying altitude of 8,800 feet.

MLS vs. Mexico

Now that we're caught up on how Sporting has fared versus Mexican sides, it's time to dig into past results between MLS and Liga MX.

For a relevant sampling, let's assess the performance of MLS teams against Mexican teams in Concacaf Champions League knockout rounds since the tournament adopted its current format in 2008-09. While there was a notable format change last year—the Champions League ditched its group stage and adopted a 16-team, knockout-style bracket—this decade-long sample size remains applicable to the situation in which Sporting find themselves.

The fact that an MLS team has never won the Champions League in its current format is well documented. Mexican clubs have won all 10 tournaments since 2008, and until last year, MLS outfits were a woeful 2-18 in two-legged Champions League series against Liga MX opponents from 2008-2017.

But the 2018 tournament saw a noticeable shift—one that will give Sporting KC, and MLS, upmost hope ahead of the 2019 competition.

Last year, MLS clubs went a collective 3-3 in Champions League knockout series versus Liga MX sides. That gave the league more such wins in 2018 than the previous nine tournaments combined.

MLS vs. Mexican opposition in Champions League knockout rounds
(Since 2008-2009)

Tournament Record MLS Club Result
2008-09 0-1 Houston Dynamo L vs. Atlante in QF
2009-10 0-1 Columbus Crew SC L vs. Toluca in QF
2010-11 0-1 Real Salt Lake L vs. Monterrey in Finals
2011-12 0-2 Seattle Sounders FC
Toronto FC
L vs. Santos Laguna in QF
L vs. Santos Laguna in SF
2012-13 1-3 Seattle Sounders FC
Seattle Sounders FC
Houston Dynamo
LA Galaxy
W vs. Tigres UANL in QF
L vs. Santos Laguna in SF
L vs. Santos Laguna in QF
L vs. Monterrey in SF
2013-14 0-3 LA Galaxy
Sporting KC
San Jose Earthquakes
L vs. Tijuana in QF
L vs. Cruz Azul in QF
L vs. Toluca in QF
2014-15 1-1 Montreal Impact
Montreal Impact
W vs. Pachuca in QF
L vs. Club America in Finals
2015-16 0-4 D.C. United
Real Salt Lake
LA Galaxy
Seattle Sounders FC
L vs. Queretaro in QF
L vs. Tigres UANL in QF
L vs. Santos Laguna in QF
L vs. Club America in QF
2016-17 0-2 Vancouver Whitecaps
FC Dallas
L vs. Tigres UANL in SF
L vs. Pachuca in SF
2018 3-3 Toronto FC
Toronto FC
Toronto FC
NY Red Bulls
NY Red Bulls
Seattle Sounders FC
W vs. Tigres UANL in QF
W vs. Club America in SF
L vs. Guadalajara in Finals
W vs. Tijuana in QF
L vs. Guadalajara in SF
L vs. Guadalajara in Finals
Total 5-21    

Admirable Champions League showings from Toronto FC and the New York Red Bulls last season saw the clubs combine for three head-to-head wins over Mexican foes. MLS' improved performance against Liga MX can be attributed to multiple factors—most notably, perhaps, is the increase in player salaries through the league's Targeted Allocation Money (TAM) program.

Even so, Sporting KC faces a challenge that so many other MLS teams have faced in the past. The series with Toluca comes at the very beginning of Sporting's season, some 35-40 days after the club has begun preseason training. Toluca, meanwhile, played their first Liga MX match on Jan. 4 and will have almost two full months of domestic action under their belts by the time Feb. 21 rolls around.

A friendlier Champions League draw for Sporting may have mitigated this issue. Indeed, Sporting are the only MLS club in the 2019 tournament slated to face a Mexican team in the Round of 16. The likes of Houston Dynamo, Atlanta United, New York Red Bulls and Toronto FC all face Central American opponents and will have that much more time to gain full match fitness and on-field sharpness prior to facing a potential Mexican foe.

Nevertheless, Sporting has no choice but to embrace the hand its been dealt. Past history paints an ominous picture of the task at hand, but it also presents the chance to claim a famous win over Mexican opposition and make a statement that the club—and Major League Soccer as a whole—is ready to contend for international trophies as a legitimate force in North America.