CONCACAF Champions League: Group 2 preview
Group 1 (HOU) | Group 2 (SKC) | Group 5 (MTL, SJ) | Group 8 (LA)
Sporting Kansas City
How they qualified: 2012 US Open Cup winners
Coach: Peter Vermes (USA)
Best finish: Semifinals; 2002 (Champions' Cup)
Outlook: Making their first appearance since the Wizards days, Sporting KC will certainly like their chances of advancing from this group. They have the best roster on paper, a home field that can be as intimidating as any CONCACAF venue, and plenty of ambition.
They will, however, have to fight through an early injury bout to give themselves a hope of advancing to the later rounds. A pair of matches against Real Estelí shouldn't be too much trouble, but Olimpia will pose a big problem if Vermes' side – whether it's reserves or first-teamers are not on top of their game, especially in Honduras.
The good news for Sporting is that they finish off with a pair of games at home, and if they can go into that series with four points from six, they'll be in prime position to advance. Anything else, and they'll face a dicey group finale against the Hondurans.
How they qualified:
Coach: Danilo Tosello (ARG)
Best finish: Winners; 1972, 1988 (Champions' Cup)
Outlook: Honduras' most successful club by any measure – between their 27 national titles and two continental titles – are certainly no strangers to continental competition and will harbor legitimate ambitions of overcoming Sporting and advancing to the quarterfinals for the second time since the CCL took its current form.
The club boast a whole host of Honduran interntionals that US-based fans should be plenty familiar with between the US-Honduras clashes in World Cup qualifying and Gold Cup qualifying. Forward Roger Rojas, defenders Brayan Beckles and goalkeeper Donis Escober all featured in the Gold Cup, while first-choice goalkeeper Noel Valladares also holds down that role for Honduras' "A" team, while midfielder Luis Garrido and Johnny Palacios also post experience with Los Catrachos.
Though they look likely to lose talented playmaker Alex López to the Houston Dynamo, Olimpia should still be considered one of the biggest threats to stop MLS from sending the maximum of four teams to the quarterfinals.
How they qualified: Best-placed champion in 2012-13 Nicaraguan First Division
Coach: Otoniel Olivas (NCA)
Best finish: Group stage; 2012-13
Outlook: Traditionally the punching bags in their three CCL appearances so far – two preliminary-round eliminations and one in the group stage after preliminary rounds were eliminated, Estelí did serve notice last year by holding Mexican power Tigres UANL to a 1-1 draw in Nicaragua.
A point at home is probably the best they can hope for this time around, too, as the team is simply way too overmatched on paper against the other two teams in this group to have a realistic shot at progressing. What they have going for them, though, is the fact that their squad has been together for a long time and a small home stadium with a tough pitch to play on. Though you won't see them in the quarterfinals, look for them to throw a wrench into the hopes of Sporting or Olimpia.
The side's best hope of scoring is likely to come from Nicaraguan international Samuel Wilson while former Tigres UANL reserve Manuel Rosas will look to make things happen in midfield.
Sporting are the favorites here, but don't count Olimpia out. The Hondurans have plenty of pedigree and international experience, not to mention one of the largest fan bases in their home country. It's hard to see the group being decided anywhere other than the Aug. 27 clash between Olimpia and Sporting in Tegucigalpa.