By CARL SETTERLUND
Qualification into the knockout rounds can’t be clinched just yet, but a chance to put a foot in the door is there for Sporting Kansas City.
Sporting KC will lace up their cleats Tuesday tonight and continue their CONCACAF Champions League campaign with a group fixture at Sporting Park against Nicaraguan side Real Esteli, which the MLS club also faced in last year’s group stage. Peter Vermes’ side will be hoping for a better result this time around after playing to a 1-1 draw back in August.
Vermes will be able to play a stronger lineup this time around, although maybe not quite as imposing as the one he used in a 3-1 win over Deportivo Saprissa last week when regulars such as Dom Dwyer, Benny Feilhaber, Graham Zusi Aurélien Collin, Matt Besler, and Seth Sinovic all saw the field.
A win on Tuesday would give Sporting KC control of Group 2 with only a game against Saprissa down in Costa Rica remaining. Sporting KC and Saprissa currently both have four points, while Real Eseli have two. Tuesday will conclude the group stage for Real Esteli. Saprissa has already played three of their four matches.
The Portland Timbers will also look to continue their recent form on Tuesday, as they go up against Guyanese club Alpha United. Like Sporting KC, the Timbers would put themselves in position to advance to the Champions League quarterfinals with a victory at Providence Park.
With Alpha United providing easier competition than Real Esteli, Timbers coach Caleb Porter has said he plans to rest most of his regular starters. The Timbers were able to take a 4-1 victory down in Guyana using a similar approach, so the full three points should still be a realistic goal for the MLS club.
The Timbers are currently tied with Olimpia of Honduras atop Group 5 with six points apiece, although the Timbers have a game in hand heading into Tuesday night.
After beating Olimpia 4-2 at home last week, a win over Alpha United would place the Timbers in a strong position heading into their final group stage game down in Tegucigalpa.
This is the Timbers’ first season ever playing in the Champions League, and it looks like they should end up with a chance to play in the knockout stage.
What do you think about tonight’s CCL action? What lineups should Sporting KC and the Timbers use? What should each team’s focus be on?
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