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Sporting KC hammered by Monterrey in CCL semis (video)

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Sporting Kansas City were humbled at the hands of Monterrey on Thursday, as Major League Soccer’s lone representative left in the CONCACAF Champions League were thumped 5-0 in Mexico.

Liga MX’s Monterrey struck twice early on against SKC, with the hosts in control the entire match.

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Dorlan Pabon scored twice, while Aviles Hurtdao, Jeses Gallardo and Nicolas Sanchez added a goal each. In truth the defeat could have been heavier for Peter Vermes SKC, as Rayados ripped them apart out wide.

Below is a look at the highlights in full (painful viewing for Sporting fans, and any MLS fans), as the second leg takes place next Thursday in Kansas City.

The winner of the this semifinal tie will play Tigres or Santos Laguna in the final. Tigres have a 3-0 lead from the first leg, so it’s looking like a Tigres v. Monterrey final. That would mark an eighth all-Mexican final in the 11 years of the competitions.

MLS’ woes in CCL continue, as no MLS club has won the competition since it was revamped in 2008.


CCL preview: Long odds for 3 of 4 MLS teams

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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.

[ UEFA Champions League: Juve seek comeback v. Atleti; Man City v. Schalke ]

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.

[ MORE: With “batteries recharged,” Zidane “couldn’t say no” to Real return ]

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.

[ MORE: Guardiola: Man City still “teenagers“ among UCL contenders ]

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.

USMNT’s Zelalem leaves Arsenal for Sporting KC

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Gedion Zelalem is looking to get his career back on track, and the USMNT midfielder has landed in Major League Soccer with Sporting Kansas City.

The club announced on Monday that Zelalem has signed a deal for the rest of the 2019 season, “with club options for 2020 and 2021.”

Zelalem, 22, was born in Germany to Ethiopian parents and moved to Maryland as a youngster. Former USMNT boss Jurgen Klinsmann spoke highly of Zelalem after he chose to represent the U.S. over Germany, while Arsene Wenger took him to Arsenal at the age of 16 and raved up his potential.

Zelalem will now be pushed on by Peter Vermes at Sporting KC, and this signing is a huge coup for MLS as it proves that yet another young player sees a pathway to develop their game and improve in North America.

“Gedion is a talented player and we are excited to welcome him to the club,” Vermes said. “We look forward to his integration into the squad as the team competes in multiple competitions throughout the season.”

Since bursting onto the scene with Arsenal and the U.S. youth national teams, Zelalem has struggled to kick on. After joining the Gunners’ academy in 2013, he made just four first team appearances under Wenger.

Loan spells at Glasgow Rangers and VVV Venlo were okay but not great, while injuries impacted his development in north London and he just hasn’t quite lived up to expectations after being billed as one of the most skilful youngsters to be nurtured at Arsenal’s academy.

There is no doubting Zelalem’s talent, especially with the ball at his feet, but there are some question marks around his physicality and even his drive to succeed at the next level.

We are about to find out if he can rip it up in MLS as he will finally push for regular minutes as a professional. That is something that has never happened, and was unlikely to happen, at Arsenal.

Sporting KC seal historic CCL win in Mexico

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Sporting Kansas City have done something no Major League Soccer team has ever done, and they will go into the start of the 2019 MLS season with a significant spring in their step.

[ MORE: MLS 2019 season preview ]

On Thursday evening they eased by Mexico’s Toluca 2-0 in the CONCACAF Champions League, as SKC advanced 5-0 on aggregate to reach the last eight.

The success was the first-time an MLS team has ever beat a Liga MX side in a CCL knockout round match when playing the second leg in Mexico. Peter Vermes side dominated a disjointed Toluca at the Estadio Nemesio Diez as Gerso Fernandes’ early goal settled any nerves and Krisztian Nemeth’s second half penalty kick sealed the deal.

SKC were so good that Toluca’s fans started chanting their name and the ole’s rang out as Vermes men kept the ball and eased to victory.

Sporting KC now face Independiente of Panama in the quarterfinals as they beat Toronto FC 5-1 on aggregate. The away leg will be played March 5-7, with the home leg March 12-14.

There are four MLS teams in the last eight, with the New York Red Bulls facing Santos Laguna, Houston Dynamo taking on Tigres and Atlanta taking on Monterrey in three MLS v. Liga MX ties.

No MLS team has ever won the CCL in its current format, but my word Sporting look irresistible and have certainly been handed a very decent route through to the final four.

SKC trade Opara to MNUFC for potential 7-figure sum

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MLS’s trade market has gone a bit crazy over the last year-plus — particularly deals involving some of the league’s top American center backs — and Sporting Kansas City head coach/technical director Peter Vermes was more than happy to take advantage of one team’s desperation… again.

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Vermes shipped Ike Opara, the 2017 MLS Defender of the Year and one of the two or three best defenders in MLS over his six-year stint in Kansas City, to Minnesota United in exchange for $900,000 in targeted allocation money with the potential for that figure to rise to $1 million after incentives. ESPN’s Jeff Carlisle reported that the additional $100,000 is contingent upon Minnesota qualifying for the playoffs for the first time in its brief MLS history.

Opara made it known during the offseason that he would like to be paid more than the $325,000 base salary he collected in 2018, and requested that Vermes consider any trade offers that might allow him to do so elsewhere.

[ MORE: What did we learn from USMNT’s win over Panama? ]

While the potential of a seven-figure sum of Garber Bucks™ sounds like a massive amount of intraleague money — and it is — it’s also a fair price for a domestic defender of Opara’s quality.

  • December 2017: LAFC acquired Walker Zimmerman from FC Dallas for $500,000 in general allocation money, plus the no. 1 spot in the allocation order (the allocation spot was then traded to Orlando City SC for $400,000 in TAM)
  • March 2018: New York Red Bulls acquired Tim Parker from Vancouver Whitecaps for $500,000 in TAM, plus an international roster spot and midfielder Felipe Martins
  • January 2019: FC Cincinnati acquired Nick Hagglund from Toronto FC for $200,000 in GAM, $100,000 in TAM, plus the no. 1 spot in the allocation order

For the first time since bringing the Loons to MLS in 2017, head coach Adrian Heath has the foundational defender he’s sorely lacked en route to conceding 70 and 71 goals in successive seasons. While it’s a steep price to pay — calling it an “overpay” isn’t unfair — given Opara’s age (he’ll turn 30 before the 2019 season starts) and injury history, it’s a risk worth taking for Minnesota who are set to open a brand new stadium, Allianz Field, and desperately need to put forth a competitive product in year three. The case for “overpaying” being a worthwhile risk under these circumstances is an easy one to make.

As for the Sporting KC side of things, it’s yet another victory for world-renowned asset flipper Peter Vermes, who 1) acquired Opara for a second-round SuperDraft pick before the 2013 season; 2) enjoyed four-plus (healthy) seasons of one of the league’s best defenders while winning an MLS Cup and two U.S. Open Cups; 3) raked in a windfall of cash to be used in future signings and/or trades. Similar outgoing trades involving Dom Dwyer (up to $1.6 million), Benny Feilhaber ($400,000) and Diego Rubio ($300,000, plus midfielder Kelyn Rowe) have earned Vermes a reputation as a shrewd negotiator and maximizer of assets.

It remains to be seen whether or not Opara will get the raise he wants (and so thoroughly deserves), but one would assume Minnesota wouldn’t part with such a sum of money without intending to resolve any unhappiness which ultimately led to Monday’s trade.