KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Sporting Kansas City have history with both of their group-stage opponents in the 2014-15 CONCACAF Champions League – one as recently as 2013.
Sporting went unbeaten home and away last year against Nicaraguan champion Real Esteli, winning 2-0 away but needing Jacob Peterson's equalizer to salvage a 1-1 draw in the home leg. The deeper rivalry for Sporting after Wednesday's draw in Miami, though, might be the older one with Costa Rica's Deportivo Saprissa – because in Kansas City, longtime fans still talk about the 2005 CONCACAF Champions Cup quarterfinal that got away.
The then-Wizards played Saprissa to a scoreless draw at home and went up 1-0 in the 78th minute of the return leg – only to concede two late goals and fall 2-1 on aggregate, while Saprissa went on to win the title.
Sporting manager Peter Vermes is more concerned about this year's edition of Saprissa, though, which won both the regular-season and postseason titles in Costa Rica. And he also has to get victories at home from Sporting, who went 2-0-0 on the road in last year's group stage but drew twice at Sporting Park and were eliminated by eventual champions Cruz Azul in the quarterfinals earlier this year.
“Saprissa's a good team, for sure,” said Vermes, whose club also learned Wednesday that they'll host the NASL's Minnesota United FC on June 20 when they enter US Open Cup lay. “No disrespect to the other teams. The other teams were hard too, as well. They came in here and got results at our place. So we've got to be willing to play. We've got to be willing to compete wherever we go.”
Sporting qualified for the 2014-15 CCL by winning MLS Cup last season, prompting Vermes to joke that they should have gotten an easier draw on Wednesday.
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“I thought normally the way it happens is that the team that wins the championship gets the easier bracket,” he told MLSsoccer.com on Thursday. “No, it is what it is. We've got to go play, and we've got to beat teams. So we've just got a good group, and we've got to be prepared to play. That's it.”
But with group play not beginning until after the World Cup, Vermes expects to have some relief for a roster that's currently depleted by injury and international duty.
“The only good thing is that I think we should have more players by that point, which will be a help,” he said. “Big help. That's the piece that's a little bit difficult at this point.”
Steve Brisendine covers Sporting Kansas City for MLSsoccer.com.