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.
The formidable task of ousting Deportivo Toluca FC in the Concacaf Champions League poses an array of unique challenges for Sporting Kansas City.
As chronicled in Saturday’s edition of our Champions League Countdown, Toluca will have almost two months of regular season action under their belts by the time the sides square off on Feb. 21. To complicate matters, Sporting will travel for the second leg—which will be played at an altitude of 8,750 feet—with hopes of avoiding defeat on Mexican soil for the first time ever.
So yes, the mission at hand is a difficult one, and such is the nature of any international club competition.
Fortunately for Manager Peter Vermes, he is working with a squad that boasts plenty of collective experience in these exact types of tournaments. Of the 26 players on the current roster, 15 have featured in at least one international club competition. In this case, that includes the Concacaf Champions League and the now-extinct Superliga in North America, the UEFA Champions League and Europa League in Europe, the Copa Libertadores and Copa Sudamericana in South America, and two continental tournaments in Africa.
Of the 11 players who have never played in an international match at the club level, almost all of them have played in multiple countries or represented their country as a senior or youth international.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at the 15 Sporting KC players who have battled for their respective clubs at the international stage.
Felipe Gutierrez (22 matches)
In 2011, Gutierrez logged a combined 13 appearances for Chilean side Universidad Catolica in the Copa Libertadores and Copa Sudamericana. The midfielder also featured nine times in the 2012-13 UEFA Europa League for Dutch outfit FC Twente.
Seth Sinovic (15 matches)
Behold, a name you may not have necessarily expected at No. 2. Nevertheless, trusty veteran Seth Sinovic has amassed 15 international club appearances—11 in the Champions League with Sporting KC and four in the 2010 Superliga with the New England Revolution.
Rodney Wallace (12 matches)
The versatile Wallace earned Champions League experience with D.C. United in 2010 and the Portland Timbers in 2014-15 prior to appearing in the 2016 Copa Sudamericana with Brazilian side Sport Recife.
Andreu Fontas (11 matches)
The Spanish center back is unquestionably Sporting KC’s most accomplished player in this category. He guided Celta Vigo to the semifinals of the 2016-17 UEFA Europa League six years after being crowned a FIFA Club World Cup champion with FC Barcelona. Fontas, who was a second-half substitute in the 2011 Club World Cup Final, also represented Barcelona in the 2010-11 and 2011-12 editions of the UEFA Champions League.
Matt Besler (10 matches)
Sporting KC’s club captain, who today celebrates his 32nd birthday, has totaled 10 appearances in international play: three in the 2009 SuperLiga, before making seven Champions League appearances across the 2013-14, 2014-15 and 2016-17 tournaments.
Abdul Rwatubyaye (10 matches)
Sporting KC’s newly signed Rwandan center back scored a hat-trick of headers for APR FC in the preliminary round of the 2016 CAF Champions League and led Rayon Sport during their unprecedented run to the 2018 CAF Confederation Cup quarterfinals.
Graham Zusi (8 matches)
The heralded Sporting KC veteran played a combined eight Champions League matches in 2013-14 and 2014-15, but didn’t feature in the 2016-17 edition.
Botond Barath (6 matches)
The Hungarian defender has six career appearances in the UEFA Europa League for hometown club Budapest Honved FC, most recently starting twice in the qualifying rounds last summer.
Gerso Fernandes (6 matches)
The diminutive winger played six UEFA Europa League matches for Portuguese side Estoril in 2013-14.
Erik Hurtado (5 matches)
The newly acquired forward logged five Champions League appearances for Vancouver Whitecaps FC, notably scoring twice against Sporting KC in the 2016-17 group stage.
Roger Espinoza (4 matches)
Somewhat surprisingly, the World Cup and Olympic veteran has totaled just four international appearances at the club level—one with Sporting KC in the 2016-17 Champions League and three with English side Wigan Athletic in the 2013-14 UEFA Europa League.
Johnny Russell (4 matches)
The Scottish forward played two matches each in 2011-12 and 2012-13 UEFA Europa League Qualifying with Dundee United.
Jimmy Medranda (2 matches)
The versatile Medranda, who is expected to return from injury this summer, featured in the 2014-15 and 2016-17 Champions League tournaments.
Krisztian Nemeth (2 matches)
The Hungarian striker made two starts for Greek powerhouse AEK Athens in the 2009-10 UEFA Europa League.
Tim Melia (1 match)
The goalkeeper’s lone appearance came in the 2016-17 Champions League versus Vancouver at Children’s Mercy Park.
- Gianluca Busio — The 16-year-old is well-traveled as a U.S. youth international.
- Yohan Croizet – The midfielder has played professionally in his native France as well as Belgium.
- Eric Dick
- Tyler Freeman – Sporting’s newest Academy signing has ventured overseas as a U.S. international.
- Jaylin Lindsey – Like Busio and Freeman, Lindsey is a seasoned U.S. youth international accustomed to competing abroad.
- Kelyn Rowe – Rowe has represented the U.S. as a senior and youth international.
- Daniel Salloi – The Academy product played on loan in his native Hungary and has blossomed into a senior international for the Magyars.
- Ilie Sanchez – It’s hard to believe that one of Sporting’s best players falls into this category, but he has plied his club trade in three different countries.
- Graham Smith
- Wan Kuzain Wan Kamal – The Academy product trained with the USA U-17s in 2013 and Dutch club Feyenoord in 2015.
- Adrian Zendejas – The goalkeeper began his professional career in Mexico with Tijuana, playing predominantly for its U-20 side.