Don't stop believing: Sporting KC say they have a chance in CCL series

Johnny Russell - Sporting Kansas City - Monterrey - CCL

CINCINNATI, Ohio — Down 5-0 in their Concacaf Champions League semifinal series with 90 minutes to go, Sporting Kansas City aren't throwing in the towel ahead of Thursday's second leg against Monterrey.

“There’s always a chance,” said winger Johnny Russell after Sporting's 1-1 draw at FC Cincinnati on Sunday. “We didn’t do ourselves any justice in the away tie. We know how difficult it’s going to be. The odds are stacked against us for the home tie, but you never know. I’ve seen what this team’s capable of, and we’re capable of coming from behind."

Peter Vermes echoed the Scottish winger’s sentiments after his team’s draw.

“It would be great to do well in the game and see if we can make a run at it,” said Sporting KC’s head coach.

Vermes cited Monterrey’s recent Liga MX results as evidence that Los Rayados are vulnerable away from home. Add to that Sporting's recent 7-1 home win over the Montreal Impact, and the case becomes a bit more compelling.

“[Monterrey] just lost 5-1 to Toluca, so stuff happens,” said Vermes. “I think we have a good team. I don’t think we are seven goals better than Montreal, and I don’t think we’re five goals worse than Monterrey. Sometimes games happen like that. We have to respond in the right way and I think today against Cincinnati was a good first step in the right direction.”

With the CCL series on both sides of Sunday's match, Vermes made eight changes to his starting eleven against FC Cincinnati. The MLS’s longest-tenured coach rested first-team regulars and selected a youthful roster that featured fresh faces like MLS debutant Gedion Zelalem and Gianluca Busio, who scored SKC’s goal.

“We made a lot of changes to the lineup, obviously. I thought the guys that came in, for not having a lot of games under their belt, in all did a really good job,” Vermes explained. “It’s not easy to go get a result anywhere in this league, let alone do it with a lot of guys that haven’t played a lot of games in succession, so from that perspective, I’m proud of these guys. I’m proud of them for trying to play the way that we want to play.”

Russell was one of the few regular starters who played big minutes in Cincinnati after starting in Mexico three days prior. He hopes some rest will help his Sporting KC teammates rise to the challenge they face later this week.

“There’s a lot of guys that played a lot of minutes and put in a lot of work, so they need a rest when they can get one. We’ve got a big squad, a very quality squad as well. We’ve always got the opportunity to make changes, and hopefully the guys get their rest, and it puts us in good stead for next game, because we know how hard a battle that’s going to be, to even try to get anything back from that after the position we left ourselves in.”