– Sporting Kansas City cruised into the 2019 Scotiabank Concacaf Champions League Quarterfinals with a 2-0 victory at Deportivo Toluca FC on Thursday night, claiming the club’s first-ever win on Mexican soil to take the Round of 16 series 5-0 on aggregate.
Gerso Fernandes struck in the eighth minute and Krisztian Nemeth bagged a 62nd-minute penalty at a dejected Estadio Nemesio Diez as Sporting became the first American team in the 57-year history of the Concacaf Champions League to beat a Mexican club in a two-legged series with the second leg played in Mexico.
The comprehensive defeat of Toluca sets up a date between Sporting and Panamanian side Independiente, who will square off in the Champions League Quarterfinals on March 5-7 and March 12-14. Sporting will host the decisive second leg, and Concacaf will announce exact dates and kickoff times for both matches on Friday at 10 a.m. CT.
Vermes fielded an unchanged lineup from last Thursday’s dominant showing in Kansas City with the intent of safely navigating the highest-elevation match in club history. Toluca’s Estadio Nemesio Diez is perched at an altitude of 8,750, and the fans in attendance were nearly treated to a breakthrough goal by the hosts after just three minutes. A Pablo Barrientos corner kick was firmly met by Antonio Rios, but his snap header caromed off the underside of the crossbar and Roger Espinoza ushered clear.
Los Diablos Rojos paid for their missed opportunity five minutes later when Espinoza turned provider with a gorgeous diagonal pass over the top to Fernandes. The winger settled the ball on the left side of the box, swiftly beat defender Rodrigo Salinas and tucked low past goalkeeper Alfredo Talavera for his second goal in as many matches, giving Sporting an invaluable road goal and a mountainous 4-0 aggregate edge.
The early strike instilled Sporting with confidence, and the visitors pinged the ball around the field with a palpable coolness for the remainder of the half. Winger Johnny Russell almost doubled the lead in the 18th minute, playing an intricate one-two with Nemeth, but his ensuing shot from a tight angle was kick-saved by Talavera. Nemeth tried his own luck off a Felipe Gutierrez layoff shortly thereafter, but Toluca’s keeper was again up to the task.
The final chance of the first period fell to 20-year-old Diego Abella, who was unable to grab a goal back for Toluca with a bouncing header that flashed well wide off an Alan Medina cross.
Interim Toluca manager Jose Luis Real, who took the helm following the dismissal of Hernan Cristante on Monday, made five personnel changes to the Red Devils setup from last week’s first leg, but the Mexican outfit remained second-best. Sporting continued to control proceedings and effectively put the series to bed just past the hour mark.
Not to be outdone by Fernandes, Nemeth also found the back of the net for the second straight game. The Hungarian forward swiveled neatly at the top of the penalty area, drove into the box and was deliberately hauled down from behind by Adrian Mora. The center back received a straight red card for denying an obvious scoring opportunity, and Nemeth heaped further misery on Toluca with a brilliant spot kick into the upper right corner of the net.
Daniel Salloi replaced Russell as a 66th-minute substitute and nearly added to the blowout with a 20-yard drive that rattled the woodwork. Four minutes later, fellow Sporting substitute Erik Hurtado unleashed a wicked side volley that grazed the outside of Talavera’s right-hand post.
Toluca’s disparaging bid for a consolation goal was rebuffed in the 85th minute when Santiago Garcia’s curling delivery was headed marginally wide by Brian Rubio. The Red Devils would end the game without a single shot on target as Sporting goalkeeper Tim Melia picked up his second consecutive clean sheet.
An impressive ousting of Toluca will give Sporting plenty of confidence heading into Sunday’s MLS season opener against star-studded LAFC. Vermes’ side will travel from Toluca to Los Angeles on Friday ahead of the high-profile encounter at Banc of California Stadium, which will air live nationally on ESPN and ESPN Deportes at 7:30 p.m. CT. Listeners can also follow the action on Sports Radio 810 WHB and ESPN Deportes KC 1480 AM as Sporting kick off their 24th campaign in Major League Soccer.