Some in Kansas City found the match on Yahoo Sports. Some ended up watching it on a Spanish speaking sports channel. Some couldn’t find it at all and didn’t watch. Many might not have even known anything was going on in soccer right now. Regardless of which group you fall into, the fact remains that Sporting KC achieved something big when they defeated Toluca FC in the first round of the CONCACAF Champions League Thursday night.
CONCACAF is soccer’s regional governing body for North America, Central America and the Caribbean. The CONCACAF Champions League (CCL) has been played in one format or another and under different names almost every year since 1962. The Champions League is a qualifying tournament for the FIFA Club World Cup.
Club teams have to qualify for the CCL. The current version of the league consists of 16 teams, nine of which are from North America. With a recent format change, United States clubs were given four entries. The winners of the MLS Cup in 2017 and 2018 received entries. The winners of the U. S. Open Cup in 2017 and 2018 also received entries. Sporting KC won the 2017 U.S. Open Cup to earn its entry into the league.
Major League Soccer teams are at a slight disadvantage in this league since their first game in the league is their first game of the year. Teams in the Mexican League will have played several games prior to their first CCL match. That doesn’t help MLS teams which have never won the league since entering it in 1997. In fact, the MLS has only had three teams reach the finals. Sporting KC’s best performance in the CCL was a semifinal loss in 2002.
Each round of the CCL in its current format consists of one home game and one away game against the opponent and the winner is the club that has the best aggregate score of the two games. Road goals are used for the tie breaker.
In February of 2018, Sports Illustrated writer Brian Straus argued that the recent change in formats which included the league being moved from an August start to a February start hurts MLS teams even more.
Canceling the group stage and pushing the start of this edition of the CCL from August to February means the MLS teams that qualified in 2016 don’t start play until 2018. In MLS, that can be an eternity.
Continental competition is supposed to feature the best a given domestic league has to offer. But thanks to the revamped format and delay, several of these MLS teams are a year or more removed from the best version of themselves.– Brian Straus
The change might actually have helped Sporting KC this year. Sporting KC lost in the conference finals in 2018, but if the first two games this year are any indication, Sporting KC will be even better this year.
Sporting KC started off strong at Children’s Mercy Park in the first of two games against Toluca FC. Toluca tried to pressure Sporting but Sporting easily beat the pressure. Sporting was able to put three goals in the net in the first game and realistically they could have had another one or two goals.
The second leg of the round was in Mexico on Thursday night and Sporting was arguably even more dominant. One goal was going to all but clinch the series for Sporting. That goal came just eight minutes into the game. Sporting added another goal and won the second leg 2-0 giving them an aggregate score of 5-0.
So it’s just a win for Sporting KC and they advance to the quarterfinals, right? Well, they do advance to the quarterfinals but this wasn’t just any win. The U.S. soccer world noticed and they took to Twitter to tell us just how big of a deal this was.
No United States team had ever defeated a Mexican team when the second leg was played in Mexico. Sporting KC did…
Sporting KC had never won in Mexico. They did this year…
MLS teams showed well in the first round…
So was this just another win for Sporting KC? No. It wasn’t just another win for any American or MLS team. What we saw in the first round of the CONCACAF Champions League was something new. MLS hopes that there is a lot more of this to come to show the world that their league is growing up.