Champions League Countdown | 11 Days: Accomplished managers square off in marquee matchup

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.

Among the few similarities between Sporting Kansas City and Toluca is the fact that both clubs will have several reasons to erect statues of their current managers once their respective tenures are complete.

Sporting KC's Peter Vermes and Toluca's Hernan Cristante have represented their clubs as players and coaches, competing at the international level before hanging up their cleats and ultimately taking the managerial reigns. Impassioned figures of the sport, both have amassed a slew of trophies throughout their decorated careers while outlasting the vast majority of their peers: Vermes is the longest-tenured head coach in Major League Soccer, while Cristante is the second-longest tenured in Liga MX.

Vermes and Cristante are also equally hungry to achieve Champions League glory. The former is taking is fourth shot in the tournament, while the latter has yet to coach in the competition. 

With 11 days remaining until these two coaching goliaths go head-to-head, we look back on the career accomplishments of Vermes and Cristante.

Peter Vermes

As a player, Vermes was a standout at Rutgers University in his native New Jersey before representing the United States in the 1988 Summer Olympics and the 1990 FIFA World Cup in Italy, helping the U.S. reach the prized competition for the first time in 40 years. In 1989 and 1990, he became the first American to compete in the Hungarian and Dutch top flights, playing for Gyor and FC Volendam, respectively. He later spent five years with Figueras in Spain before joining MLS for its inaugural 1996 season. He spent his first MLS campaign with the MetroStars before linking up with the Colorado Rapids in 1997.

Vermes, who transitioned from a forward to a center back toward the end of his playing days, joined Kansas City in 2000 for what would be the most successful season of his MLS career. During his first year in Kansas City, he anchored one of the best defenses in league history and won MLS Defender of the Year honors while helping lead the Wizards to the 2000 MLS Cup Championship. He retired in 2002 and was inducted into the National Soccer Hall of Fame in 2013.

After a brief spell away from the club, Vermes became the club’s technical director in 2006 and took the helm as manager in 2009. He has won four major trophies at he helm – the 2012, 2015 and 2017 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cups and the 2013 MLS Cup – and finished atop the conference standings in 2011, 2012 and 2018. He is the first coach in club history to lead Sporting KC to eight straight postseason appearances, as well as the only person to ever win the MLS Cup as both a player and a coach with the same team.

Just last month, Vermes won the inaugural MLS Sporting Executive of the Year award for his exemplary leadership, dedication and strategic vision in guiding Sporting KC to success.

Hernan Cristante

In 1990, Cristante launched his professional career in Buenos Aires with hometown club Gimnasia. His four-year stint at the club resulted in the goalkeeper’s first call-ups to the Argentine Men’s National Team, where he totaled six appearances from 1989-1995. Cristante’s crowning achievement at the international level came when he was Argentina’s No. 1 at the 1995 Copa America, where he helped the side reach the quarterfinals.

Cristante had completed his move from Gimnasia to Toluca two years earlier. He arrived in Mexico in 1993 for his first of a remarkable 419 Liga MX appearances for the club. Barring brief loan stints to three Argentine clubs during the 1990s, Toluca was the place Cristante would call home until 2010.

As Toluca’s netminder, Cristante guided los Diablos Rojos into one of the most decorated eras in club history. He lifted five Liga MX titles as the starting goalkeeper, securing the 1999 and 2000 springtime championships before adding a treble of Apertura (fall) trophies in 2002, 2005 and 2008. By the late 2000s, Cristante had established himself as a premier goalkeeper in Mexico’s top flight, setting a league record in late 2008 by posting a 773-minute shutout streak.

After ending his time with Toluca in 2010, Cristante spent two years with lower-division Mexican side Universidad de Guadalajara before retiring in 2012. He embarked on a coaching career four years later, taking the reigns at Deportivo Tepic FC in Mexico.

Cristante’s current spell as Toluca boss began on May 31, 2016. His team placed 10th in the 2016 Apertura but has made four straight playoff appearances since then, including runners-up finishes in the 2018 Clausura and Clausura Copa MX. He has posted a 43-28-19 regular-season record over the last three years.


  Peter Vermes Hernan Cristante
Age 52 49
Nationality American Argentine
Playing career 1988-2002 1989-2012
Clubs as player 9 6
Club trophies as player 2 6
League appearances
(with current team)
302 (78) 583 (419)
International career 66 caps for USA 6 caps for Argentina
Club coaching career 2009-present 2016-present
Clubs coached 1 2
Club trophies as coach 4 0