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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.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

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 roundup: MLS 0-4 in 1st legs

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Major League Soccer’s four CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinalists require second leg comebacks to find places in the semifinals after Sporting KC and Atlanta United lost on Thursday.

[ MORE: Saief, Corona join MLS ]

The New York Red Bulls and Houston Dynamo both lost 2-0 at home on Tuesday, while Atlanta and KC were on the road for the following setbacks.

Independiente de la Chorrera 2-1 Sporting KC

Peter Vermes’ men were considered MLS’ best bet heading into the round, and remain so after collecting an away goal in Panama.

Sporting mainstay Ilie Sanchez converted a 51st minute penalty kick to level the score line after Romeesh Ivey gave Independiente a halftime lead.

Alexis Corpas restored Independiente’s advantage heading back to Sporting KC.

Vermes’ men face the Philadelphia Union in league play before the second leg next week.

Monterrey 3-0 Atlanta United

A pair of late goals took Atlanta’s poor night to a level of despair as the Liga MX hosts gained a three-goal advantage without conceding an away goal to the Five Stripes.

Atlanta was outshot 17-5 and managed just a single shot on target despite Frank De Boer starting a threatening front three of Josef Martinez, Pity Martinez, and Ezequiel Barco.

And here’s your exclamation point:

Super sub Diomande gives LAFC late win over 10-man Sporting KC

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Sporting KC fouled LAFC and fouled them some more, and while it appeared they would escape Los Angeles with a point to show for it, the strategy backfired.

After picking up five first-half bookings and six overall, Roger Espinoza was sent off with six minutes to play in regulation, and LAFC took advantage of the man-up opportunity as Adama Diomande delivered the winner three minutes into stoppage time for a 2-1 win in the season opener. Sporting KC went in front before the break, but LAFC came from behind to earn all three points.

The first half was lively on both sides as Carlos Vela was dangerous throughout. Still, it was the visitors who went in front first at Banc of California Stadium as the LAFC defense was soft to allow Krisztian Nemeth to find space near the penalty area and Johnny Russell fed him for the 16th minute opener.

Both teams had plenty of chances in the first half, the biggest of which came in the 36th minute as Lee Nguyen fed a delicious through ball to Mark-Anthony Kaye who was clean on goal. The flag went up for offside, although the decision proved to be contentious upon replay, and the assistant probably should have left his flag down to let VAR provide any necessary decision after the fact. Vela’s constant presence and LAFC’s general attacking mentality forced Sporting KC into constant fouling, racking up 12 fouls and five yellow cards in the first half, the most first-half yellows since at least 2012 in an MLS match.

Just over a minute after halftime, with the home crowd still loudly behind its squad despite the deficit, Diego Rossi brought LAFC back level as he muscled past a helpless Graham Zusi to create space and rifled a pinpoint shot past a diving Tim Melia who got the faintest of fingertips to the ball but couldn’t keep it out.

LAFC nearly went in front on 57 minutes, but Eddie Segura’s powerful header off a corner was nervously parried by Meila before the rebound was cleared off the line by Seth Sinovic. The game plodded along until the 84th minute when, with a whopping six players on yellow cards, Sporting KC finally, inevitably fell a man down. In a moment of complete idiocy, Roger Espinoza needlessly went through the back of Kaye in midfield, an easy decision to show the Honduran his second yellow and reduce Sporting KC to 10 men. The marching orders are the ninth of Espinoza’s MLS career, tying him for second-most in league history and one behind the leader Jamison Olave.

That paved the way for the winner in the 94th minute. While it appeared Sporting KC was poised to earn a valuable road point amid heavy pressure, Diomande was on hand to deliver the deathblow off the bench. Having come on way back in the 59th minute, he collected a heavy touch from Jordan Harvey, switched to his right foot, and rifled a bullet just past the outstretched hands of Meila.

CONCACAF Champions League second leg preview

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The results from the first legs of the CONCACAF Champions League’s Round of 16 means the stakes in the return legs are all over the map.

But unless you’re Marathon and allowed six away goals to Santos Laguna — yes, even if your Canadian club puked up a 4-0 loss in Panama — the CONCACAF Champions League second legs present opportunities to advance to the quarterfinals.

[ PL PREVIEW: Newcastle v. Burnley ]

As stated, there were two 4-goal beatdowns. But only one of the losers in those instances feels a legit chance to bounce back. Toronto FC’s 4-0 loss to Independiente in Panama was a crime against Major League Soccer, but the Reds still have the fire power to spring a big win at BMO Field on Tuesday (even without Sebastian Giovinco). The odds are long, but not impossible.

The other MLS side to trail after one leg is Atlanta United, who fell 3-1 to Herediano in Costa Rica but is bringing back an away goal to Georgia for Thursday’s second leg. Should Frank De Boer‘s Five Stripes complete the comeback, they’ll get the winner of Alianza and Monterrey. That one’s 0-0 after a leg in El Salvador.

Houston got a late DaMarcus Beasley goal to take a 1-0 lead away from Guastatoya in Guatemala, and will feel good about its chances of moving onto face the winner of Saprissa and UANL Tigres (The Costa Rican side leads 1-0 after one leg and is off to Mexico).

Red Bulls collected a comfortable enough 2-0 first leg win in the Dominic Republic against Atletico Pantoja, and can keep it pretty cool for Wednesday’s second leg Stateside and (probably) look ahead to next week’s likely match-up with Santos Laguna.

Finally, Sporting KC hammered Toluca 3-0 at home, and will not be overlooking their Liga MX opposition South of the border. Handling its business likely means Independiente. This could really be the CCL run long expected of Peter Vermes’ men.

Vermes’ mind is one of KC’s assets, but their depth and experience is very very important, too. The one X-factor — advanced statisticians prepare to shudder — is the mentality and mindset of career men Graham Zusi and Matt Besler. There’s little-to-no chance they will be unprepared for the test or overlook what it could mean to a team and league they’ve chosen over any other.

Colorado Rapids sign free agent Feilhaber to 1-year deal

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Former Sporting KC midfielder Benny Feilhaber has completed a one-year deal with the Colorado Rapids, with an unspecified option for a second year, the club announced Friday.

Feilhaber spent two seasons with the New England Revolution before joining Sporting KC prior to the 2013 season, and became one of the more well-known members of the KC roster over a five-year spell, winning an MLS Cup in 2013. The 33-year-old joined LAFC before last season and made 34 league appearances for them, scoring three goals and adding six assists. He also started and played 73 minutes in the playoff loss to Real Salt Lake.

“Benny is a creative and experienced MLS veteran,” Rapids Executive VP & GM Padraig Smith told the official team release. “He is a player that will help balance our midfield and contribute to the scoresheet.”

According to reports, Feilhaber will make just under the maximum salary of $530,000, meaning he will not need to be bought down by GAM or be a Designated Player. He joins other new Colorado arrivals such as Kei Kamara, Diego Rubio, and Keegan Rosenberry.

Feilhaber owns 44 appearances for the USMNT, but was infamously shut out of the squad by former manager Jurgen Klinsmann, and while he returned to the fold after Klinsmann was fired, his age prevented him from being a major contributor to the team.