KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Sporting Kansas City have already done the road work in CONCACAF Champions League play, with six points and a plus-four goal differential out of their first two matches. With a solid home result on Tuesday against Real Estelí (8 pm ET, Fox Soccer Plus), they can all but guarantee their spot in next spring's knockout stage.
But now isn't the time to start coasting, they say, even though the Nicaraguan side hasn't scored in CCL play yet this year – or won a single match in 18 regional outings (0-13-5).
“Obviously, getting the win first is the most important thing,” Sporting left back Seth Sinovic said on Monday during the club's weekly news conference. “If we happen to get some goals on top of that, that would be huge. But we don't want to take anything for granted. We know that it's a tough team we're playing against, so getting the win first is obviously the most important thing.”
Sinovic's take echoed that of manager Peter Vermes, who said Sporting need to maintain their intensity against the team they beat 2-0 last month to open group play – especially with Honduras' Olimpia, another 2-0 victim in August, on three points after two matches and still within mathematical contention.
“We did a lot of hard work on the road – two wins, four goals, two clean sheets,” Vermes said on Monday. “That's great. Now you can't take your foot off the gas pedal. Now it's time to really go after it, being that we're at home, and secure the result here. If we can do that, then we'll watch the game between the other two, and we'll go with ours against Olimpia after that.”
And aside from a few hiccups, Vermes said, his club has proved increasingly adept at putting away overmatched opponents.
“We've gotten better as the season has gone on,” he said. “There were a few instances where maybe we've missed a few good opportunities through the course of the season, but I also think those have been good lessons for us and have helped us toward the end of the season.”
It also helps, Vermes said, that Sporting are coming off a bye last weekend and will have a full complement of players available for the first time in weeks with the return of winger Graham Zusi (United States), midfielder Peterson Joseph (Haiti) and defenders Matt Besler (US) and Mechack Jerome (Haiti) from international duty.
And with three days to rest up between Tuesday's game and Sporting's return to league play on Saturday at Toronto FC, Vermes has the luxury of using his regulars in the XI against Real Estelí.
“It'll be a combination,” he said. “I don't really discuss the lineup beforehand, but the guys who go out there will be ready to play. We have a good group, and I think they're excited to play. They're done with training, and they're ready to go play a game.”
Steve Brisendine covers Sporting Kansas City for MLSsoccer.com.