Sporting stresses importance of home crowd in Champions League quarterfinal

Ilie Sanchez and Peter Vermes got right to the point when previewing Sporting Kansas City’s second leg of their Concacaf Champions League quarterfinal matchup Thursday evening versus Independiente.

After returning home from Panama last week with a 2-1 loss, the impetus is on making the most of a friendly Children's Mercy Park crowd.

“We play at home, so we expect our fans being there for us,” Ilie, who scored a penalty kick in the first leg, said. “But we also want to give them in return a good performance. I think that the team is going to be as good as they were in the first leg, so we need to be ready to hopefully get a better result.”

This CCL tournament, Sporting has already made good on playing in front of The Cauldron, beating Liga MX side Toluca, 3-0 (5-0 aggregate). Then this past weekend, Vermes’ team secured a 2-0 win over the Philadelphia Union for their first points of the 2019 MLS campaign.

“Sometimes home field, away, it all can be overrated,” said Vermes, who ruled center back Andreu Fontas out due to injury. “At the same time, I don’t think there’s anything to replace what it’s like to play in front of your own fans. A lot of it is has to do with our approach first and foremost.

“If we come with the right approach, then I also believe the fans will respond positively to that, which then, in turn, makes your home field more important at that moment,” Vermes continued. “If you play poorly, it doesn’t matter. So it really has to do with our approach when we step into the white lines.”

That last part refers to the uphill climb Sporting faces. They have a precious away goal, but a loss will guarantee exiting the regional competition. Rather, they need to make up ground on aggregate to face the winner of an Atlanta United vs. Monterrey semifinal on Wednesday night.  

If the game reaches penalty kicks, Sporting can rest assured with Tim Melia between the sticks. The 32-year-old has made stellar record against penalty kicks throughout his MLS career, including one this past weekend vs. Philadelphia. As Vermes surely hopes proceedings don't reach that point, Krisztian Nemeth and Gerso Fernandes both have scored twice in CCL play. 

Ahead of Thursday, Ilie paid respect to Independiente's performance from the first leg, though expects more this go-around.

“We knew them, we studied them,” Ilie said. “Coach and the staff, they presented us the team before that game. When you’re on the field things can turn different than what you were expecting. But they have really good players, especially up top, and they are a compact team. They work together, they run a lot. But we are also a really good team.”

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