CCL Rewind: Monterrey too much once again for Sporting KC

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The odds were never in their favor.

Sporting KC scored two first half goals but they couldn’t defend against mighty Monterrey, falling 5-2 on the night and 10-2 on aggregate in the CONCACAF Champions League semifinals. Monterrey showed what MLS is missing with clinical finishing on the counter attack and for the most part, strong, resolute defending.

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While the result was expected, after Monterrey’s thumping 5-0 first leg win, it showed that even when Monterrey had little to play for, they could still put one of MLS’ best teams to the sword.

Sporting KC opened the game with attacking vigor and it resulted in a pair of goals from Gerso. In just the sixth minute of the match, Gerso chopped home a cross from Johnny Russell on the volley to put Sporting KC in front on the night, and in the 29th minute, Gerso was quickest to the ball after a shot was parried towards him by Monterrey goalkeeper Marcelo Barovero.

But even with the goals and the forward momentum, Sporting KC had no answers for the likes of Rogelio Funes Mori, Aviles Hurtado and Rodolfo Pizarro. Funes Mori finished with two goals with Hurtado, Pizarro, and Miguel Layun each scored one goal.

The defeat, in embarrassing fashion, is another stark reminder of how far off MLS clubs are from those at the top of the Liga MX table. Last year’s CONCACAF Champions League final between even a struggling Chivas de Guadelajara side and Toronto FC showed that MLS was even a ways off in that battle. This time, it wasn’t even close.

It’s unclear what has to change moving forward. Should MLS start their season earlier? Should they allow for more DPs? Should teams be able to spend as much money as they want? Obviously, MLS has the long-term view on the growth of soccer, and it would be unwise to burn this shining star out quickly instead of creating sustained success. But without any changes, it will be more of the same as Mexican clubs continue to improve along with MLS sides.

Sporting KC pulls away late v. CAI to advance to CCL quarterfinals

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It took 74 long, painful, never ending minutes. Then Sporting KC finally found the breakthrough.

Peter Vermes’ side kept the flame alive for MLS in the CONCACAF Champions League, pulling away late to rout Club Atletico Independiente of Panama, 3-0, on Thursday evening in Kansas City, Kan. Kristzian Nemeth scored a brace, including the opener with an assist from his fellow Hungarian, centerback Botond Barath. With the win, Sporting KC advances to take on Monterrey in the CCL semifinals.

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From the opening whistle, Sporting KC attacked the CAI defense, with Johnny Russell and Gerso dribbling in from the wings at their opposing defense. However, goalkeeper Jose Guerra was equal to the task, leading to a frustrating first half and first 25 minutes of the second half. Sporting KC had six shots, eight corner kicks and 74 percent possession in the first half.

That “74” number though was key, as it was when Sporting KC finally got on the board. A corner kick was lofted into the box, where Barath jumped highest and headed the ball down, into the mixer. Nemeth reacted quickest and rifled a shot past Guerra in for a goal. With that goal, Sporting KC were tied on aggregate but would advance on away goals, meaning that CAI had to push forward a bit to find a goal of their own.

CAI’s push up the field left spaces out wide yet again for Sporting KC to exploit. After Gerso missed a wide-open chance and had another called back for offside, he finally made CAI pay. Gerso launched an attack forward and crossed the ball in from the left. It found its way to Russell, who tapped it to Roger Espinoza for the easy finish in the 81st minute

In a similar play in the 86th minute, Sporting KC put the game beyond reach with a Gerso cross that was slotted home by Nemeth.

CONCACAF Champions League Quarterfinal preview: Red Bulls, Dynamo with major tests

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One week into the regular season, the New York Red Bulls and Houston Dynamo face the annual CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal test against Liga MX opposition.

Sporting KC set the tone last round with a resounding victory over two legs against struggling Toluca, but it will likely be a different story for the Red Bulls and Dynamo. The Red Bulls face a Santos Laguna team that’s won four of its last five matches in all competitions, while the Dynamo face the current Liga MX leaders in Tigres UANL, which is looking to win the double or treble this spring.

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Both MLS clubs settled for 1-1 draws in the opening weekend of the season, unable to generate enough chances to send a message to their Liga MX counterparts. The only positive, at least for the Red Bulls, is that Club Leon routed Santos Laguna 3-0 last Saturday. Then again, that could help Santos play angry against the Red Bulls in Tuesday’s first leg match.

In both MLS sides’ favors, their first leg matches take place at home, where they can hope to get off to a good start. Snow fell across the Midwest and Northeast on Sunday and Monday, making it interesting to see how the Red Bulls pitch holds up, even though there was a cover on the grass. Still, it’s two teams with major question marks still. How do the Red Bulls overcoming the loss of Tyler Adams, while for the Dynamo, how do they become a league power once again?

If an MLS team wants to win the CCL, they’d do well to knock out their Liga MX counterparts at this stage of the competition. A big first-leg win could set the stage for both clubs moving on to the semifinals.

CCL Rewind: Atlanta United completes epic comeback to advance

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Before the match, Atlanta United’s chances of advancing to the next round of the CONCACAF Champions League were slim. That all changed inside the first minute of the game.

Josef Martinez’s goal in the first 60 seconds set the tone as Atlanta United went on to rout Costa Rican side Herediano, 4-0, winning 5-3 on aggregate. Martinez finished with two goals, including the one that finally put Atlanta United ahead midway through the second half. Julian Gressel scored in the ninth minute while defender Leandro Gonzalez Pires powered home a header in the 83rd minute to put the finishing touches on the match.

[READ: Projecting the next USMNT squad]

Whether due to early-season jitters, the playing surface or rustiness, Atlanta United did not look its former self in the first leg of the encounter. On Thursday night, it looked like the dominant Atlanta United of old, even though they played at Kennesaw St.’s Fifth Third Bank Stadium. Frank De Boer stuck with his 3-4-3 formation, though he brought in Brek Shea, who created a spark down the left for the first goal. Shea’s cross was mis-cleared right into the path of Martinez, who finished for a goal.

The intensity and performance should help Atlanta carry the early-season momentum in MLS into the next round of the Champions League. Plus, as Gonzalo “Pity” Martinez, Josef Martinez and Ezequiel Barco grow in chemistry, so exciting attacking options should be on display one day.

Seattle 1-0 Chivas: Dempsey gives Sounders advantage

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A Clint Dempsey second half goal gave the Seattle Sounders a one-goal advantage over Chivas de Guadalajara as the sides head into next week’s CONCACAF Champions League second leg in Mexico.

In the 78th minute, Henry Wingo was played into space down the right wing, and the local product centered the ball to the oncoming Dempsey, who timed his run perfectly and slotted home past Chivas goalkeeper Rodolfo Cota.

[MORE: TFC comes back to top Tigres in CCL action]

Chivas had chances to score throughout the match but Stefan Frei and the Sounders backline – which had a healthy Chad Marshall back in the lineup – shut the door on the Mexican side.

After a weekend in which few U.S. Men’s National Team-eligible players featured across MLS starting lineups, the Sounders sent out six American starters and brought three more off the bench.

18-year-old sensation Handwalla Bwana, a Homegrown signing like Wingo, made his first Sounders start and caused the Chivas defense a lot of problems with his speed and dribbling ability.