CONCACAF Champions League: Sporting KC lament missed opportunity to take big step towards qualification
KANSAS CITY, Kan. – Sporting Kansas City had hoped to use this CONCACAF Champions League match to make the next one a formality. Instead, they'll have to wait at least a week – and possibly until late October – to wrap up their spot in next year's knockout stage.
“We didn't play with enough urgency, to go out and win the game, and that's on ourselves,” center back Matt Besler said after Sporting needed Jacob Peterson's 78th-minute goal to salvage a 1-1 draw with Nicaraguan side Real Estelí on Tuesday night. “It's not on anybody else. We go home tonight very disappointed. We've got to look at ourselves in the mirror tonight about how we performed, but the big picture is that we've got another competition in this game at home, and if we win that game, we're through to the next round.”
Sporting could clinch if Real Estelí – who are winless in 37 CONCACAF matches across all tournament formats – can break that streak next week against Honduras' CD Olimpia. Otherwise, they will need at least a draw in the group-stage finale against Olimpia on Oct. 23.
“Obviously, it's frustrating,” midfielder Benny Feilhaber said. “We wanted to get a win against that team to further ourselves in the standings and weren't able to do that. Having said that, a point's a point, and it puts us in position where we can get a draw in the last game to go through.”
Tuesday's draw came after Sporting bossed both of their away matches in August, beating both Real Estelí and Olimpia by 2-0 margins. And it came against a team that hadn't scored in its first 2 ½ group matches before Rudel Calero buried a header off Samuel Wilson's corner kick in the 54th minute.
“I thought we played well enough to win,” said goalkeeper Eric Kronberg, who had both of Sporting's clean sheets in the away matches. “Unfortunately, we gave up that goal against the run of play, but we've got to finish the chances that we have.”
Kronberg's counterpart, Real Estelí's Justo Lorente, made that difficult for the hosts that night. Despite getting nutmegged on Peterson's equalizer, which came after Graham Zusi sent a low corner kick to the near post, Lorente had the night's star turn with five saves.
“I got to tell you, the goalkeeper had some great saves,” manager Peter Vermes said in the postmatch news conference. “He was in it from the opening whistle.”
Still, Sporting managed to secure an important point thanks to Peterson's first goal of the year in any competition, just minutes after he came on as Sporting's final substitute – and he came close to delivering a late game-winner, only to push his shot wide right deep in second-half injury time.
“He was definitely concentrated on the goal when he scored,” Vermes said. “He just missed the other one. I actually thought he picked the right place, I think he just missed his target by a little bit, but he was definitely a good spark for us off the bench for sure.”
Steve Brisendine covers Sporting Kansas City for MLSsoccer.com.