Five Things, presented by Keith + Associates Dentistry, is a weekly series on SportingKC.com that highlights the top storylines, players to watch and matchday programming ahead of each game throughout the season.
A must-win matchup awaits Thursday night as Sporting Kansas City will aim to overturn a 2-1 deficit in the decisive second leg of the Scotiabank Concacaf Champions League Quarterfinals against Panamanian side Independiente at Children’s Mercy Park.
Tickets for the 7 p.m. CT showdown are included in Season Ticket Member packages and remain available at SeatGeek.com as Sporting and Independiente play for a spot in the semifinals of North America’s most prestigious club tournament.
Thursday’s pivotal battle will stream live in English on YahooSports.com and the Yahoo Sports app, while Univision Deportes will air a Spanish telecast. Listeners can also catch the action locally on ESPN 95.3 FM (English) and ESPN Deportes KC 1480 AM (Spanish) in addition to receiving in-game update and exclusive offers on the new Sporting KC App.
With that in mind, here are five things you must know heading into Thursday.
1. Must Win
Having dropped the first leg 2-1 last week, Sporting have no choice but to beat Independiente in order to advance. Below are the scenarios that would send each team through to the semifinals. Keep in mind: if Sporting wins 2-1, the sides will be level on aggregate and the away-goals tiebreaker, and a penalty shootout will decide the winner. No extra time will be played on Thursday night under any circumstances.
- Sporting wins the series with: a 1-0 victory or a win by multiple goals.
- Independiente wins the series with: a win, a draw or a one-goal loss in which they score at least twice (2-3, 3-4, etc.)
- The series goes straight to penalty kicks with: a 2-1 win for Sporting
2. What’s at Stake?
Answer: a whole lot. For starters, neither Sporting nor tournament debutants Independiente have ever reached the Champions League Semifinals. Prevailing on Thursday would be a historic achievement for both clubs and preserve the possibility of a team outside of Mexico winning the Champions League for the first time since the competition’s modern era began in 2008.
Beyond that, the ultimate prize of $500,000 and a potential berth in the FIFA Club World Cup would remain a realistic target for the series winner. It would also pit Sporting or Independiente against the winner between Atlanta United FC and Monterrey in the semifinals, currently slated for April 2-4 and April 9-11. Monterrey owns a 3-0 aggregate lead going into Wednesday’s second leg in Atlanta.
3. Home Fortress
Children’s Mercy Park has earned a reputation as one of the toughest places to play in the country, and Thursday gives Sporting the opportunity to leverage a powerful homefield advantage on the international stage.
Past history paints a positive picture for the hosts, who are 4-0-3 at home all-time against Central American and Caribbean opponents. That seven-game stretch includes four multi-goal wins, four shutouts, 12 goals scored and just three goals conceded. Remember, a 1-0 win or a multi-goal victory would do the trick for Sporting on Thursday.
4. Speed Demons
Make no mistake: Independiente are here for a reason. This talented and speedy side hammered Canadian giants Toronto FC with a 5-1 aggregate win in the Round of 16 and exploited their pace in last week’s 2-1 first-leg defeat of Sporting.
Wingers Omar Browne and Romeesh Ivey have been particularly devastating. Browne has two goals and two assists in Champions League play, while Ivey’s three goals are second-most in the tournament. Expect the visitors to defend deep and numbers and look to strike on the counter through this duo.
Under the guidance of manager Francisco Perlo, Independiente are dreaming big as the unquestioned Cinderella of the competition. But Thursday’s visit to Children’s Mercy Park will be their sternest test to date.
5. MLS on the Brink
After a poor showing in last week’s first legs, MLS is on Champions League life support. With the New York Red Bulls, Houston Dynamo and Atlanta United FC all laying eggs against Mexican opposition, Sporting just might be the last MLS team standing in the tournament. This would give Manager Peter Vermes’ men even more impetus to get the job done against Independiente and represent the league in next month’s semifinals.
Keith + Associates Dentistry Fact
Late U.S. President George Washington never had wooden teeth. His dentures were made from gold, hippopotamus tusk, elephant ivory and human teeth.