Cruz Azul vs. Sporting Kansas City | CONCACAF Champions League Match Preview

Cruz Azul vs. Sporting Kansas City
Estadio Azul, Mexico City, Mexico
CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals, second leg
March 19, 2014; 10 pm ET/9 pm CT (Fox Sports 2, Galavision)

It’s mostly gone right for Sporting Kansas City so far – yes, one point from two league games (admittedly against two quality teams) doesn’t look great, but the situation looks pretty good heading into the second leg of their CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal against Cruz Azul.

There’s no doubt they wanted more than the 1-0 aggregate lead they’re taking with them to Mexico City, but Sporting have a clean bill of health and aside from suspended left back Seth Sinovic (caution accumulation) will be able to field a full lineup after resting key players such as Graham Zusi for the team’s 1-1 draw with FC Dallas over the weekend.

Still, the task ahead of Kansas City on Wednesday night is immense. Cruz Azul currently sit comfortably on top of the Liga MX table with a 9-1-1 record from 11 games in the 2014 Clausura so far and a 5-0-0 record at their home venue, Estadio Azul.

Sporting have played down the altitude (7,380 feet) and other outside factors, but as evidenced by the LA Galaxy’s debacle in Tijuana on Tuesday night, Sporting’s mental preparation will have to match their prematch talk and ambitions. Cruz Azul are a team with their own demons, not having won a major title since 1997 and making a habit of spectacular failure in big names since, but given their form and quality, it's hard to see that happening Wednesday.

La Máquina Azul are missing defender Rogélio Chávez and midfielder Alejandro Castro through suspension due to caution accumulation, but have ready-made replacements in Fausto Pinto and Xavi Baéz, respectively. Let's not forget head coach Luis Fernando Tena will also have the prodigious attacking talent of up-and-coming Mexican international Marco Fabián on the roster, not to mention the Argentine-born trio of Christian Giménez (who now represents Mexico), Mauro Formica and Mariano Pavone, plus Ecuadorian international Joao Rojas rounding out the attack.

The home side can throw out both a 4-2-3-1 look, which Liga MX fans are used to seeing, or the 4-4-2 that we saw in the first leg. With Castro suspended, it wouldn't be surprising to see Tena return to that 4-4-2, although hopefully for his team it will yield more chances than last Wednesday, when they put just two of their eight shots on target and didn't create a single big chance, per OPTA.

Whichever look Tena chooses, though, there are clearly capable scorers and creators on the field. Fabián has been one of the stars of Clausura 2014 to date, with six goals and an assist in 10 appearances, while the rest of the group has been mostly impressive as well, especially Formica (4G, 2A) and Pavone (2G, 4A). In other words, Sporting's vaunted defense will live up to its reputatoin in the fullest on Wednesday.


Possible XIs

Sporting KC (4-3-3): Kronberg; Myers, Collin, Besler, Gardner; Nagamura, Rosell, Feilhaber, Zusi, Bieler, Zizzo

Cruz Azul (4-4-2): Corona; Flores, Perea, Domínguez, Pinto; Rojas, Giménez, Baez, Fabián; Formica, Pavone


What They’re Saying

“It's going to take all 11 to 14 players – whoever gets subbed in – it's going to take everyone busting their butt all 90-plus minutes. They're a very good team, and if we snooze even a little bit, they're going to catch us. So they're cheeky, and we know that, and we've got to be locked in the whole time.”
– Sporting KC goalkeeper Eric Kronberg (MLSsoccer.com)

"They're going to throw everything at us. They have so many incredible attacking qualities. That's something we have to be very, very, attentive to."
– Sporting KC head coach Peter Vermes (CONCACAF.com)

"I believe that [it is kill or be killed] because it is a very important match and we want to get as high as possible in the league and in the [CONCACAF Champions League]. It is a final for us and we want to overcome it."
– Cruz Azul forward Mauro Formica (La Universal via SportingKC.com)

“They surprised us, it’s a team with a lot of ability, with good players, with an important intensity, and [in Kansas City] they made it very difficult for us, meaning we have to make adjustments.”
– Cruz Azul defender Luis Perea (Récord via SportingKC.com)


Don’t Forget to Check Out