Beyond the Box Score: Sporting make Champions League history in 3-0 hammering of Toluca

A dominant start translated into the opening goal. Then one goal became two. And two became three. And by the time Costa Rican referee Henry Bejarano put Deportivo Toluca FC out of their misery with the full-time whistle, Sporting Kansas City had made history and SportingKC.com's first Beyond the Box Score of 2019 had practically written itself.

Manager Peter Vermes’ side cruised to an emphatic 3-0 win over Toluca on Thursday night at Children’s Mercy Park in the first leg of the Scotiabank Concacaf Champions League Round of 16. Krisztian Nemeth, Gerso Fernandes and Ilie Sanchez found the back of the net as Sporting built an advantageous cushion heading into next Thursday’s return leg at Estadio Nemesio Diez Toluca, Mexico.

What made Thursday’s result so significant, you ask?

It marked only the second time in the 57-year history of the Concacaf Champions League that a team from the United States or Major League Soccer defeated a Mexican club by three goals.

This rare feat first occurred in the preliminary regional playoffs of the 1997 Concacaf Champions’ Cup, when the LA Galaxy posted a 4-1 home win over Santos Laguna.

Let that sink in for a moment.

The 2019 Concacaf Champions League is the 11th edition under its current name and the 54th overall edition of North America’s premier club tournament. Dating back to 1962, the competition has been dominated by Mexican clubs, who have accounted for 34 titles compared to Major League Soccer’s two. D.C. United and LA Galaxy were crowned champions in 1998 and 2000, respectively, when the tournament featured eight teams in a single-elimination bracket and took just a week to complete.

Thus, we can begin to see why Thursday’s dismantling of Toluca was so unprecedented.

“The ability for us to play through as good a team as Toluca is pretty impressive,” Vermes said after the match. “At the end of the day, you have to commend our guys.

What made Sporting’s victory even more impressive was the fact that the club was playing its first competitive match of 2019—as well as the earliest game on the calendar in team history. Toluca, meanwhile, had seven Liga MX fixtures under their belts after opening the Clausura campaign on Jan. 4.

Despite that disadvantage, Sporting were more than up to the challenge. Vermes credits the performance to the squad’s exemplary preparation ever since falling to the Portland Timbers in the Western Conference Championship of the 2018 MLS Cup Playoffs on Nov. 29.

“Ever since the last game last year, they kind of knew what was in front of us,” Vermes said. “We had a big talk about it. We laid out a plan physically while they were in their offseason. They did the work and we started a little bit earlier than we normally would have. I think we had the best preseason we’ve ever had, and I commend the players for that.

“At the end of the day, if they don’t come to work every day, then you don’t have the best preseason. Credit to them—they worked hard. But this is just one leg. This is just one game. We have a second leg here that is going to be very difficult and we realize that.”

Indeed, Sporting are in a favorable position ahead of next week’s trip to Mexico, but the job is far from over. The second-leg fixture at Estadio Nemesio Diez in Toluca will take place at an altitude of 8,750 feet, the highest elevation Sporting has ever played a competitive match.

Sporting can advance to the Champions League quarterfinals next Thursday with a win, a draw or a loss by two or fewer goals. A 3-0 Toluca win would send the tie into penalty kicks. In the round of 16, no extra time will be played. A three-goal Toluca win in which Sporting scores at least once (4-1, 5-2, etc.) would see Vermes’ men advance on the away goals tiebreaker.

The decisive second-leg showdown will kick off at 9 p.m. CT on YahooSports.com, the Yahoo Sports app and Univision Deportes. The series winner will face the victor between Toronto FC and Independiente FC of Panama in the quarterfinals, with those games currently slated for March 5-7 and March 12-14.

“Everybody understands what they need to do,” said winger Gerso Fernandes, who recorded a goal and an assist in a man of the match performance. “It’s important and winning 3-0 at home is huge for us, especially because we didn’t concede any goals.

“We know they have a good team, winning 3-0 here is nothing if you don’t go there and play as a team,” he continued. “That’s what we need to have in our head: to play as a team and do our best.”

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