Let’s start with a positive: Sporting Kansas City find themselves in a pretty strong position to advance to the CONCACAF Champions League semifinals when they host Panamanian side Independiente in leg no. 2 on Thursday.
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Now, the not-so-positive: the chances of any of the other three remaining MLS teams joining them — should Sporting KC get there themselves, even — are extremely poor.
Peter Vermes’ side trails 2-1 after last week’s first leg in Panama City, but the away goal secured from the penalty spot could prove vitally important when the two sides wrap up the tie at Children’s Mercy Park. Independiente were fully deserving of the home result, as they pressed and thoroughly frustrated a Sporting side that rotated eight of 11 first-choice starters from the weekend prior.
Ilie Sanchez got the away goal, from the penalty spot, which should give at least one MLS team a fighting chance to reach the final four.
Reigning MLS Cup champions Atlanta United have, perhaps, the next best chance of going through — and matching wits with Sporting in the semis — if only for the fact that their first-leg defeat occurred away from home. They have, however, the largest deficit to overcome on Wednesday: 3-0, against Liga MX powerhouse Monterrey.
For much of the first leg, Atlanta trailed 1-0, until the floodgates gave way in the final 10 minutes and Monterrey opened up what could very well be an insurmountable lead. Throw in the fact that Frank De Boer‘s side have looked a far cry from Tata Martino’s final edition of the Five Stripes — the one that tore MLS to shreds en route to the league title in its second season of existence — and a Sporting v. Monterrey matchup begins to look the best possible reality for neutral viewers north of the border.
Then, there are the New York Red Bulls and Houston Dynamo, each of whom trail 2-0 and hit the road for the decisive leg, against Santos Laguna and Tigres, respectively.
Houston held firm for more than 75 minutes, and though a scoreless draw would have left them in an unfavorable position ahead of Tuesday’s second leg, 0-0 would have been preferable to 0-2. The Red Bulls, on the other hand, were completely played off their home field and never looked up to the challenge of what is arguably Mexico’s most prolific side.
Should a second MLS side join Sporting in the semifinals — heck, if Sporting get there themselves, it’ll be a minor miracle — it’ll be an epic night that no one will soon forget.