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 SeatGeek.com as Sporting hosts its earliest competitive match in club history.
In the 20 days leading up to Feb. 21, SportingKC.com 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.
Our fifth installment of the Champions League Countdown lays out exactly why this competition means so much to both Sporting Kansas City and Deportivo Toluca FC.
The tournament’s name has a prestigious ring to it, but what exactly is up for grabs when Sporting KC and Toluca square off later this month? And why should their respective fan bases care?
Let’s dive into what’s at stake as these clubs prepare for battle.
1. The chance to become the first MLS club to win the Concacaf Champions League in its current format
Since Concacaf’s premier club competition was rebranded in 2008, Mexican clubs have won all 10 tournament titles. Major League Soccer has produced just two continental champions all-time, as D.C. United and the LA Galaxy won the Concacaf Champions’ Cup on home soil in 1998 and 2000, respectively.
2. The chance to show that Major League Soccer has become a legitimate rival to Liga MX
As touched upon in Saturday’s edition of our countdown, MLS clubs were a woeful 2-18 in two-legged Champions League series against Liga MX opponents from 2008-2017. Last year, that record improved to 3-3 as Toronto FC and the New York Red Bulls made excellent runs deep into the competition.
Manager Peter Vermes summarized it perfectly on the Sporting KC Show earlier this week: the injection of Targeted Allocation Money is improving the quality of MLS quicker than we could have imagined. And what better way to showcase that growth than by proving head-to-head that MLS sides are consistently capable of ousting their Mexican counterparts.
3. The potential chance to represent Kansas City on the international stage at the FIFA Club World Cup
Emphasis here on the word “potential.” For the last several years, the Concacaf Champions League winner has gone on to represent North America at the FIFA Club World Cup, which consists of the UEFA Champions League winner, the Copa Libertadores winner and other continental champions from across the globe. In many ways, it’s the world’s most coveted trophy available at the club level.
Things may or may not change in 2019. In March, FIFA officials will meet to discuss a potential format change to the Club World Cup. If FIFA elects to keep the current format and hold the competition as it customarily does in mid-December, Sporting KC has the opportunity to put itself on the soccer map like never before. In order to do so, they would have to win the Champions League. Should FIFA decide to change the format of the Club World Cup and—as widely reported—change it to a quadrennial event beginning in 2021, exciting international opportunities would remain on the horizon for Sporting KC.
4. A shiny trophy
The tournament champion will be presented with an exact replica of the competition’s trophy for its permanent possession while also receiving 50 gold medals. These goodies will ultimately age into some of the club's most cherished memorabilia.
1. The chance to get over the “second place” hump
Toluca haven’t won a major trophy of any kind—domestic or international—since 2010. In the nine years since then, los Diablos Rojos have lost four straight finals in all competitions. That includes three Liga MX playoff finals and the 2013-14 Concacaf Champions League, where they lost to Cruz Azul in heartbreaking fashion on away goals.
The 2019 Champions League gives manager Hernan Cristante and Toluca the opportunity to get over the proverbial hump. If a club keeps knocking on the door in the manner Toluca has for the last decade, it more often than not results in silverware.
2. The chance to join Mexico’s elite
Make no mistake, Toluca have a proud tradition as one of the most successful teams in Mexico. Los Diablos Rojos have won 10 Mexican league titles, third-most behind Club America’s 13 and Guadalajara’s 12, while also winning the Concacaf Champions’ Cup in 1968 and 2003.
However, Toluca have yet to win the Champions League in its current format and remain further down the pecking order in the discussion of Mexico’s modern and historic elite. The likes of Club America, Guadalajara, Pachuca, Monterrey, Cruz Azul and Tigres UANL have all claimed Champions League glory, and their brands resonate on a larger scale across Mexico. Yet any discussion of Toluca as a “smaller club” would vanish with a continental title this spring.
3. The chance to maintain Liga MX’s stranglehold
As stated above, Liga MX teams have dominated the Champions League for the last decade while consistently prevailing as Concacaf’s club champions throughout history. While MLS sides made serious inroads in 2018, Toluca and fellow Mexican participants Tigres UANL, Monterrey and Santos Laguna will want to reclaim their aura of Champions League dominance this time around.
4. A shiny trophy
To add to its extensive list of honors collected over the course of an entire century.