Tall task in Toluca: Sporting preps for highest-elevation match in club history

Last Thursday at Children's Mercy Park, Sporting Kansas City played their earliest competitive match ever. Krisztian Nemeth, Gerso Fernandes and Ilie Sanchez provided goals in a Feb. 21 victory over Deportivo Toluca FC, giving the club a 3-0 aggregate lead heading into Thursday's decisive second leg of the Concacaf Champions League Round of 16.

When Manager Peter Vermes' men take the field Thursday night in Toluca, Mexico, another all-time superlative will take place.

The 30,000-seat Estadio Nemesio Diez, nicknamed La Bombonera—in Spanish, the Chocolate Box—is perched at an approximate altitude of 8,750. At well over a mile and a half high, the stadium has landed another nickname over the years as one of the toughest places to play in Mexico: El Infierno, simply translated as Hell.

As you might have guessed, Sporting’s trip to Toluca will be the highest altitude for a match in club history. That's roughly two times as high as Salt Lake City, Utah.

Below is a chart of highest-altitude matches Sporting have ever played. Including games at Real Salt Lake and the Colorado Rapids, the team has played 61 times above 3,000 feet in elevation. In those fixtures, Sporting own an 11-35-15 record across all competitions—including a 1-6-0 mark outside of the country.

Sporting KC matches played above 3,000 feet (all-time)

City Opponent Altitude Date Result Competition
Mexico City, MEX Cruz Azul 7,200 03/19/14 L 5-1 Concacaf Champions League
Morelia, MEX Morelia 6,299 08/07/02 L 6-1 Concacaf Champions' Cup
Denver, CO Colorado Rapids 5,280 37 times 6-20-11 MLS, Playoffs, Open Cup
Salt Lake City, UT Real Salt Lake 4,327 17 times 4-9-4 MLS, Playoffs, Open Cup
San Jose, CRC Deportivo Saprissa 3,845 03/17/05
10/23/14
L 2-1
L 2-0
Concacaf Champions' Cup
Concacaf Champions League
Torreon, MEX Santos Laguna 3,675 08/08/01
04/10/02
L 4-2
L 2-1
Copa Merconorte
Concacaf Champions' Cup
Tegucigalpa, HON C.D. Olimpia 3,248 08/27/13 W 2-0 Concacaf Champions League

A few takeaways from the table above.

  • In their six highest-elevation matches played outside of the United States, Sporting are 0-6-0 with six goals scored and 21 conceded.
  • A 2-0 victory at Olimpia in August 2013 is the only match Sporting has won on foreign soil above 3,000 feet.
  • The two times Sporting played above a mile high in Mexico, things didn't go well: a 6-1 loss to Morelia in 2001 was followed by a 5-1 loss to Cruz Azul in 2014.

In conclusion, nothing about Sporting's trek to Toluca will be easy. Yes, they have a 3-0 aggregate advantage and los Diablos Rojos are amidst a woeful run of form—one that resulted in the dismissal of manager Hernan Cristante on Monday—but Vermes' side can ill-afford to deliver anything less than a sound performance in such lung-busting conditions.

Thursday's second leg will stream live in English on YahooSports.com and the Yahoo Sports app while airing live in Spanish on Univision Deportes. Sports Radio 810 WHB and ESPN Deportes KC 1480 AM will also carry local radio broadcasts.

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