By TATE STEINLAGE
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Sporting Kansas City’s Kevin Ellis has been known as the hometown kid ever since he signed with the club in 2011. However, Wednesday night the defender was simply known as the hero, as his score helped give Sporting KC a 1-0 victory against Cruz Azul, and a slight edge heading into next week’s second leg of the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals in Mexico City.
Ellis, who knew he’d be starting just a few days ago, scored the game’s lone goal in the 17th minute. The chance came off a corner kick that was cleared 30 yards out. Sporting KC forward Claudio Bieler came up with the ball and flicked a pass with the outside of his right foot to Ellis, who wasted no time turning inside and blasting home a ball just past the outstretched arms of Cruz Azul goalkeeper Jesus Corona.
It was Ellis’ first professional goal in a competitive match, and one he says he’ll remember for a long time.
“It means a lot (scoring the goal), but more importantly we got the win and that’s what means the most,” Ellis told SBI after the match. “We know in these games, these home and away games, you have to win the home games. You have to get the result at home. That was our main focus, to get the three points and go to Mexico City winning.”
Sporting KC continued to attack the Mexican side after scoring the goal, nearly doubling the scoreline in the 44th minute off a skipping shot from Bieler that Corona barely tipped away.
However, the Sporting KC attack withered coming out of the halftime break, as Cruz Azul sent three or four players on directional runs every time they received the ball in the midfield.
An equalizer was all but in-goal in the 55th minute for Azul, but defender Ike Opara came roaring into the box to poke it to the right of the net. Seconds later off the corner kick, defender Seth Sinovic cleared a ball off the line to calm the nerves of the Sporting KC supporters in the north end of Sporting Park.
Cruz Azul continued to press offensively deep into the second half, looking to steal an important road goal, but the back four defenders of Ellis, Sinovic, Matt Besler, and Ike Opara did enough to earn an important shutout.
“I thought we did a very good job sealing the deal,” Opara said. “The game just provided so many things that happened and you had to adjust on the fly, so I thought we did a good job seeing it out.”
The 1-0 aggregate lead is crucial for Sporting KC, but manager Peter Vermes says the biggest challenge remains at Estadio Azul next week.
“I think our worth ethic ruled the day, but if you really take it over a 90-minute match, this is first half,” Vermes said. “We have another half when we go to Mexico, so we still have a big challenge in front of us.”
What did you think of Sporting KC’s performance? Will they have enough to top Cruz Azul in Mexico? Let us know in the comments below.