Sporting Kansas City put the ball in the net twice in their CONCACAF Champions League opener. Unfortunately for the defending MLS Cup champs, the ball only went into the opponent's goal once.
Sporting fell behind early on an own goal Tuesday night and had to settle for a 1-1 away draw with Nicaragua's Real Estelí, missing out on a chance to take the group lead. Instead, Esteli – the only club to play two matches – head the group with two points, with Sporting and Costa Rican side Deportivo Saprissa on one point each.
The result already guarantees Sporting a worse away record in group play than last year, when they opened with victories at Real Estelí and Honduras' CD Olimpia on their way to winning the group and reaching the quarterfinals. The Nicaraguan side remained winless (0-9-5) in CCL play, after drawing Saprissa 1-1 in their 2014-15 opener on Aug. 6.
Real Estelí went up 1-0 in the sixth minute, on an own goal by Sporting defensive midfielder Jorge Claros. Daniel Da Silva got behind Kansas City's back line on a counterattack, unleashing a low shot that Jon Kempin saved, but the ball deflected off Claros and into the back of the net from close range.
It took just 10 minutes for Sporting to equalize, on a textbook free kick from winger Toni Dovale. A handball call on Rodrigo Valiente gave Kansas City a free kick just outside the penalty area, and Dovale left keeper Justo Lorente flat-footed with a left-footed curler into the upper right corner.
Kempin – making just his second start in all competitions this season for Sporting and his third competitive start overall – won his next big duel with Da Silva in the 53rd minute, coming out to block a shot that Claros then cleared harmlessly away.
The 21-year-old Homegrown keeper came up big again in the 81st minute, sprawling to his right to parry away Juan Barrerra's one-timer after a long cross from Da Silva, then had to withstand a scary moment in the first minute of stoppage time. Kempin got his fist to a corner but did not punch it all the way out, and the ball bounced free in the area before Carlos Chavarria put an awkward attempt over the bar.
Steve Brisendine covers Sporting Kansas City for MLSsoccer.com.