Sporting Kansas City are just halfway through group play in the CONCACAF Champions League, but a spot in next year's knockout stage already looks far more like a “when” than an “if.”
Sporting cruised through the away portion of the group stage with a pair of 2-0 victories, earlier this month against Nicaragua's Real Estelí and Tuesday night against Honduran side CD Olimpia, and own a plus-4 goal differential going into the home legs.
Olimpia is on three points and minus-one, and Real Esteli is winless through two with a minus-four differential (see full CCL standings here).
“It's a humongous result,” manager Peter Vermes told reporters by phone after Tuesday night's win, which came behind a brace from left winger Soony Saad. “It's huge to come here – not an easy trip by any means with the travel and everything else – and put in an unbelievable tactical performance. I thought we were flawless in that regard. And then another clean sheet puts in a good position to now try to bring both these teams home. We're in a very good place.”
Sporting's away experience included a four-hour bus ride to and from San Pedro Sula, because the airport in Tegucigalpa – site of Tuesday's match – is regarded as one of the world's most dangerous. Then, at game time, temperatures hovered in the mid-60s as rain poured onto the pitch at Estadio Nacional Tiburcio Carías Andino.
“That actually made the field the way we like it,” said Vermes, whose club hosts Real Esteli on Sept. 17 and Olimpia on Oct. 23 to close out group play. “It made it quick and fast, so it was good.”
Sporting didn't dominate the stat sheet, with possession slightly in the host's favor and Olimpia winning 56 percent of the duels and outshooting the visitors 10-7. But only one of those shots was on goal, and that not until second-half stoppage time, as Sporting used tight defense and timely runs on offense to seal the victory.
“I can't say enough about the performance of the team,” Vermes said. “It was fantastic.”
Steve Brisendine covers Sporting Kansas City for MLSsoccer.com.