KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Jacob Peterson has been through all of this before: The long midweek journeys by plane and bus. The spartan facilities. The hostile crowds – all the things that challenge MLS clubs on the road in CONCACAF Champions League play.
And as one of only two available players on Sporting Kansas City's roster with CCL experience, and the only one who's likely to start Wednesday night's group stage opener against Nicaraguan side Real Esteli (10 pm ET, Fox Soccer Plus), Peterson will have to draw on that experience – and share it with his clubmates.
“It's a strange atmosphere,” said the well-traveled winger, who played in the tournament's group stage in 2010 while with Toronto FC. “It's not like you're just going over to LA and playing in a nice stadium with good locker rooms. There are some interesting stadiums down there. The hotels aren't great. The food's suspect, so there are some factors that make it challenging.
“We've talked about those, and everybody's aware of that, so there are no excuses,” he added. “It all comes down to if we attack the game with the right mentality.”
That means adapting to the street-smart Central American style of play, Peterson said.
“They're technical, andd they're sneaky in the way they play,” he said. “If they're up, they time-waste. They roll around on the ground. Everybody knows that, so we have to make sure that starting off the game, we don't let these guys get into it.”
Officiating in the tournament also requires MLS players to make an adjustment, Peterson said.
“They see the way the guys dive, or they fall down with little contact, and you can get in trouble as far as card accumulation or red cards,” he said. “So we've got to be careful. We've got to keep our minds but also attack the game and be physical as well.”
Forward Kei Kamara also has CCL experience, with Houston in 2008-09 and 2009-10, but is not likely to be in the starting XI against Real Esteli because Sporting have a home league match against New England on Saturday.
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Despite those and other absences – including All-Star midfielder Graham Zusi, who is out with a quad strain – Peterson expects Sporting to come through the group stage on top.
“The ownership group has given us every opportunity to succeed,” he said, “and I think that advancing, winning our group – I don't think we should settle for anything less than that. Hopefully, this game here will start us off on a good note.”
Steve Brisendine covers Sporting Kansas City for MLSsoccer.com.