The most important series in Sporting Kansas City’s international history is just around the corner. On Thursday, Manager Peter Vermes’ side will visit Mexican giants CF Monterrey in the first leg of the 2019 Scotiabank Concacaf Champions League Semifinals. The second leg is slated for 8 p.m. CT on April 11 at Children’s Mercy Park, with tickets now on sale at SeatGeek.com.
In the buildup to this titanic clash, SportingKC.com is relaunching the Champions League Countdown to give readers a comprehensive look at Sporting’s semifinal opponent. This 10-part series, running from March 25 to April 3, will shed light on all things Monterrey—ranging from players to watch and recent performances to past history in the Champions League and more.
After more than a fortnight of anticipation, it's officially Champions League matchweek.
Sporting Kansas City and CF Monterrey will square off at 9 p.m. CT Thursday inside the world-class Estadio BBVA Bancomer, hoping to gain an edge in the first leg of the Champions League Semifinals. Supporters can follow the action live on YahooSports.com, Univision Deportes, Sports Radio 810 WHB and ESPN Deportes KC 1480 AM.
Manager Peter Vermes' men have reached the semifinals of North America's most prestigious club competition by defeating Mexican club Deportivo Toluca FC and Panamanian underdogs Independiente in the earlier rounds.
Monterrey, meanwhile, have scalped a pesky Salvadorian side and one of Major League Soccer's heavyweights. This marks Rayados' fourth appearance in the Champions League Semifinals, having won the tournament title on each of the previous three occasions in 2011, 2012 and 2013. Without further delay, let's recap Monterrey's run to the semis.
Round of 16 First Leg: T 0-0 at Alianza (Feb. 20, 2019)
Monterrey entered the competition with high expectations, and their strong start to the Clausura campaign in Liga MX did nothing to quash the belief that Rayados were perfectly capable of winning the title. Even so, their first-leg trip to El Salvador served up one of the more notable Round of 16 surprises.
Alianza were outmatched on paper, but the hosts delivered an inspired performance by outshooting Rayados 13-9 and limiting Monterrey to a single shot on target. Bladimir Diaz and Oscar Ceren were nuisances for the visitors, but Rayados goalkeeper Marcelo Barovero was up to the task with four saves.
Round of 16 Second Leg: W 1-0 vs. Alianza (Feb. 27, 2019)
The return fixture at Estadio BBVA Bancomer unfolded quite differently, as Monterrey seized the attacking initiative in a one-sided affair from start to finish. Despite spending most of the night on the back foot, Alianza defended admirably and thwarted off punch after punch thrown by Rayados.
Anxiety around the stadium was palpable as the game, and the series, remained scoreless until the final moments. Alianza were four minutes away from forcing a penalty shootout until Monterrey's Dorlan Pabon drew a foul on Carlos Portillo inside the box. Nicolas Sanchez stepped to the spot and buried the ensuing penalty, sparing Monterrey blushes and sending head coach Diego Alonso's men to the quarterfinals.
Quarterfinal First Leg: W 3-0 vs. Atlanta United FC (March 6, 2019)
Monterrey may have been unconvincing in the Round of 16, but there was no doubting the quality of their first-leg display against the reigning MLS Cup champions. Atlanta United FC were thoroughly outplayed as Rayados took a 17th-minute lead on Sanchez's penalty kick, conceded when Leandro Gonzalez Perez chopped Pabon to the turf.
Atlanta's grip on the series dissipated entirely when the floodgates opened in the second half. Pabon doubled Monterrey's lead in the 80th minute before Mexican international Jesus Gallardo put the game out of reach with a third goal four minutes later. The result left Atlanta a gigantic mountain to climb going into the return leg at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
Quarterfinal Second Leg: L 0-1 at Atlanta United FC (March 13, 2019)
Alas, the result that will give Sporting hope in the semifinals. Monterrey's 13-game unbeaten run in 2019 came to an end in Atlanta, but the 1-0 scoreline wasn't enough to prevent Rayados from advancing to the semifinals.
The visitors didn't offer much going forward, as none of Rogelio Funes Mori's three shot attempts tested Atlanta goalkeeper Brad Guzan. Home fans' hopes of an unlikely comeback were kindled in the 77th minute when Josef Martinez found the back of the net, but Monterrey limited the damage from there and got the job done.