Sporting Kansas City made a statement of intent in the Scotiabank Concacaf Champions League Round of 16, brushing aside Mexican outfit Deportivo Toluca FC to reach the quarterfinal stage for the second time ever. But don’t expect Manager Peter Vermes’ side to bask in the limelight of such an achievement.
After all, Sporting face a wildly quick turnaround with Sunday’s narrow loss at LAFC followed by Wednesday’s first leg of the Concacaf Champions League Quarterfinals, which will take place 3,000 miles southeast of Los Angeles in an isthmus nation that connects North and South America.
Sporting fans, meet Club Atletico Independiente de la Chorrera, our Cinderella opponent in the next round of North America’s most prestigious club competition.
Independiente have captured the imaginations of spectators across the continent, marking their Champions League debut with a remarkable 5-1 aggregate victory over Canadian giants Toronto FC in the Round of 16. The upset was kickstarted by a stunning 4-0 first-leg win on Panamanian soil and clinched with a 1-1 draw at BMO Field last Tuesday.
Without further ado, let’s get to know Sporting’s quarterfinal foe a little bit better. But before we jump in, take note: the first leg in Panama will kick off at 7 p.m. CT Wednesday before the clubs square off again in the decisive second leg on March 14 at Children’s Mercy Park. Tickets for that match are now on sale at SeatGeek.com.
Both games will stream live in English on YahooSports.com and the Yahoo Sports app while airing live in Spanish on Univision Deportes.
How Independiente Qualified
Independiente took their first step toward punching a Champions League ticket as winners of the 2018 Liga Panameña de Fútbol Clausura (spring season). This was the first top-flight title in the club’s 37-year history.
Concacaf awarded Panama’s Champions League spot to the league winner with the better aggregate record throughout the entire 2017-18 Liga Panameña de Fútbol season. Chorrillo were 2017 Apertura (fall) champions, but Independiente won the berth by finishing two points higher than Chorrillo in the 2017-18 aggregate table.
Nicknamed Las Abejitas—Spanish for the Beehives—Independiente play their home matches at the 3,000-seat Estadio Agustin Sanchez in La Chorrera, Panama. In 2008, the stadium received a nearly $2 million renovation to improve its lighting system, increase the field’s dimensions and install an artificial turf surface.
Estadio Agustin Sanchez is also the home of San Francisco, Independiente’s city rival. The venue was inaugurated in 1968 and hosts a variety of local youth soccer competitions in La Chorrera.
Of the 23 players on Independiente’s Concacaf Champions League roster, 17 hail from Panama. Ten of the 11 who started in their 4-0 first-leg win over Toronto in the Round of 16 (more of that in a moment) were native Panamanians, with Colombian midfielder Gustavo Bolivar the lone international of the group.
One particular standout to keep an eye on is midfielder and Panamanian national teamer Omar Browne (pictured far above). The 24-year-old scored in both legs against Toronto FC and was named to the Concacaf Champions League Team of the Week on Friday for his role in securing a 1-1 result at BMO Field three days earlier. Elsewhere in attack, 24-year-old winger Romeesh Ivey ranks second behind Brown (nine goals) with five league goals since the start of the 2018 Apertura season last fall.
On the opposite end of the pitch, 26-year-old Gerardo Negrete and 40-year-old captain Manuel Torres spearhead a backline that prevented Toronto from registering a single shot on target in the first leg. Goalkeeper Jose Guerra was much busier in the return leg, making eight saves in snowy, 20-degree conditions. The well-traveled Torres, by the way, has represented the Panama Men’s National Team 35 times, winning the 2009 Central American Cup and playing in the 2007 and 2009 Gold Cups.
Venezuelan Francisco Perlo was appointed Independiente’s manager just three months ago, taking the helm on Dec. 3, 2018. He previously managed Panamanian sides Costa del Este and Leones de America before assuming his current role.
Independiente’s humble beginnings originate with the club’s founding in 1982. After competing in the local leagues of La Chorrera, Las Abejitas earned promotion to Panama’s second division for the first time in 1994 but suffered relegation the following year. They climbed back into the second tier in 2000 and experienced pedestrian results for most of the decade that followed.
Las Abejitas moved into Estadio Agustin Sanchez in 2009, shortly after the venue was renovated. In 2013, a new board of directors took control of the club and Independiente were crowned Clausura champions of Liga Nacional de Ascenso to reach Panama’s premier division for the first time in team history.
Despite a relegation in 2015, Independiente bounced back into the top flight in May 2017. Almost exactly a year later, on May 19, 2018, Las Abejitas defeated domestic powerhouse Tauro FC 1-0 with a goal from Browne to win their first Liga Panameña de Fútbol title.
Winning the 2018 Clausura ultimately vaulted Independiente into the Champions League, but Las Abejitas struggled last fall and finished ninth in the 2018 Apertura with a 4-6-8 record. Perlo has steadied the ship since the new year, guiding the side to a 3-1-1 domestic record and one of the biggest upsets in recent Concacaf Champions League history.
Independiente shocked the region on Feb. 19, thrashing 2018 Champions League finalists Toronto FC by a 4-0 scoreline with an Ivey brace, a Browne goal and an early strike from Jorman Aguilar. The visiting Reds had 71 percent possession but failed to translate that into a single shot on target as Las Abejitas delighted their home fans with a jaw-dropping result.
Perlo’s men showed their professionalism a week later in the freezing temperatures of Toronto, falling behind 1-0 but defending resolutely and scoring on the counter attack through Browne to seal a 5-1 aggregate triumph.
La Chorrera is a city of approximately 165,000 people, located roughly 20 miles southwest of the capital Panama City. Situated along the Pacific coast on the south side of the country, La Chorrerra is renowned for its international fair and is the hometown of former New York Yankees pitcher Mariano Rivera and former World Boxing champion Vicente Mosquera.