By TATE STEINLAGE
Sporting Kansas City helped their cause for CONCACAF Champions League advancement on Tuesday in a big way, picking up a 3-0 victory over Real Esteli to remain atop Group 2.
Claudio Bieler led the way with a brace, his first since May 2013. The Argentine Designated Player put away a first-half goal during the run of play and finished on a penalty attempt in the second half. Sal Zizzo capped off the evening with a flicked header late in the second half.
Sporting KC leads Group 2 with seven points and one match remaining, a road battle at Deportivo Saprissa on Oct. 23. However, with the result Tuesday, Sporting KC hold a five-goal advantage over second-place Saprissa.
“I actually don’t think that we played the pace we wanted to play at in the first half,” Sporting KC manager Peter Vermes said after the game. “Still, we didn’t really give much away and we scored one goal. We could have scored another, at least. Playing down in Nicaragua was not easy for us so I think so far I think we’ve managed the group well but business isn’t done yet, we’ve just put ourselves in a good position. We’ve got to make sure when we go down [to Saprissa] we’re ready to play because it’s going to be an interesting atmosphere for sure.”
The final score could have been a whole lot worse for Real Esteli — which has yet to win a CONCACAF Champions League match in five years — had Sporting KC put away a majority of their chances in the first half.
Bieler scored 14 minutes in off an excellent cross from defender Seth Sinovic, but whiffed on an even easier attempt 11 minutes later and had a free-kick saved moments before halftime.
Midfielder Graham Zusi, who would have assisted Bieler on one of the aforementioned sequences, missed just wide on a chip attempt in the 28th minute.
The two sides went into halftime with Sporting KC leading 1-0.
While Real Esteli missed on its handful of chances in the second half, Bieler and Zizzo capitalized on their’s, adding goals in the 70th and 78th minutes, respectively, to ensure that Sporting KC would be victorious.
“He (Bieler) comes to training everyday, he doesn’t mess around, he works hard, and he’s been very professional about taking his opportunities when they come,” Vermes said of Bieler. “He’s a total team guy and I’m happy he got the two goals tonight. He’s actually on really great form, playing very well any time he’s come on. He was an important part of the team in last year’s success and we’re going to need him again some point this year as well.”
Sporting KC now control their own destiny heading into next month’s final group stage match. They return to action with a huge Eastern Conference matchup Friday at home against the New England Revolution.
Here are the match highlights: