This is the Group 2 preview as we approach the kickoff to the 2014-15 CONCACAF Champions League on August 5. For comprehensive CONCACAF Champions League coverage, bookmark this page.
Sporting Kansas City | HOW QUALIFIED: 2013 MLS Cup Champions | PREVIOUS BEST: Quarterfinals (Most Recent: 2013)
Saprissa | HOW QUALIFIED: 2014 Verano Champions | PREVIOUS BEST: Semifinals (Most Recent: 2010)
Real Esteli | HOW QUALIFIED: 2013 Apertura Champion/2014 Clausura Champions | PREVIOUS BEST: Group stage (Most Recent: 2013)
DAVID AND GOLIATH
Sporting Kansas City participate in CONCACAF Champions League play for the second consecutive tournament, and they are joined in Group 2 for the second year in a row with Nicaraguan side Real Estelí. The reigning MLS Cup champions and their familiar opponents are joined this time around by Costa Rican champions Saprissa.
It’s a group of champions – can SKC emerge as group winners once again?
|August 6 | 10 PM||Real Esteli||Saprissa||Independencia|
|August 19 | 10 PM||Real Esteli||Sporting KC||Independencia|
|August 26 | 10 PM||Saprissa||Real Esteli||Estadio Ricardo Saprissa|
|September 18 | 8 PM||Sporting KC||Saprissa||Sporting Park|
|September 23 | 8 PM||Sporting KC||Real Esteli||Sporting Park|
|October 23 | 10 PM||Saprissa||Sporting KC||Estadio Ricardo Saprissa|
Benny Feilhaber, Sporting Kansas City: Peter Vermes is likely to give minutes in the CCL group stage to players who may not see as much MLS action, but Feilhaber will likely get at least a couple games. The midfielder, who stepped up when Graham Zusi was gone most of the summer for the World Cup, is arguably playing the best soccer of his career right now, and he’s doing it in multiple ways – scoring, setting up teammates, and pitching in on defense.
Yeltsin Tejeda, Saprissa: Coming off a wildly successful World Cup campaign this summer with Costa Rica, the uniquely named Tejeda will be on the front lines of Saprissa’s defense in midfield, looking to stop Sporting’s multifaceted attack. And after the impressive run he’s been on with club and country, don’t be surprised if a host of MLS teams are keeping a special eye on his play.
The final matchday, between Saprissa and Sporting in Saprissa’s vaunted Estadio Saprissa, could be a winner-takes-all game. With Sporting having two of the first three Group 2 matchdays off, they may have the luxury of knowing exactly what they need to do in order to win the group, but they may also need to go down to the final day against Saprissa, the last non-Mexican team to win the Champions League, who will likely feel they have a good chance to win the group themselves.
Saprissa defender Michael Umaña spent two stints in MLS, with the LA Galaxy (2005), and Chivas USA (2010-11)… Real Salt Lake beat Saprissa in the CCL semifinal in 2010-11 … Sporting KC went 1-0-1 vs. Real Esteli in 2013-14 CCL group play … SKC fell in the quarterfinal stage of last year’s CCL to eventual winners Cruz Azul … Current MLS strikers Jairo Arrieta (Columbus Crew) and Alvaro Saborio (Real Salt Lake) formerly played for Saprissa.
CAN SPORTING KC WIN IT ALL?
As one of the only MLS teams in the current CCL to have recent experience in the tournament, they seem like probably the best bet to win it. That said, it’s going to take a combination of strong play in the group stage, and should they advance, in next year’s knockout stage, a favorable draw, and probably some luck to break Liga MX’s dominance in the tournament. Still, after taking the US Open Cup and MLS Cup in recent years, the CCL is certainly in Sporting’s sights.