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Saprissa knocks Sporting KC out of CCL contention



Sporting Kansas City entered the night needing only a draw to advance to the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals for the second-straight year. Standing in their way, though, were Deportivo Saprissa and a rowdy “Monster’s Cave” crowd.

It proved to be too much in the end for the defending MLS Cup champions. Heiner Mora and Ariel Rodriguez scored for Saprissa, eliminating a two-goal deficit in Group 2 to jump Sporting KC in the standings on away goals, en route to a 2-0 shutout victory.

“I thought we battled,” Sporting KC manager Peter Vermes said over the phone after the game. “We’re playing away from home at their place, we’re going to push the game — they know they have to run after it — and we’re going to try to not open ourselves up.

“From that point of view, I thought we did some good things. Unfortunately, they scored two and we couldn’t get one in.”

Rodriguez celebrated the feat with thousands chanting and screaming his name. It was his goal in the 47th minute that punched Saprissa’s ticket into the next round. Late Thursday evening, Saprissa was drawn with Mexican giants Club America in the quarterfinals, with a trip to Estadio Azteca between March 3-5 and a home match against the Eagles between Feb. 24-26.

To add salt to Sporting KC’s wound, they lost both Benny Feilhaber and Igor Juliao to injuries in the first half. Feilhaber had to be carried off the field on a stretcher with an apparent ankle injury, while Juliao limped off under his own power.

“It wasn’t the atmosphere at all,” Vermes said. “When you lose two guys in the first half like we did — we’re trying to manage people already for the weekend game — it’s almost ludicrous the number of guys we have out. Trying to manage those other guys, at some point something’s going to break.”

The MLS side will now travel back to Kansas City ahead of their final regular season game against the New York Red Bulls. A win or draw Sunday would secure Sporting KC the third playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. A loss would force them into a one-game, winner-take-all match to decide who makes it to the Conference Semifinals.

Feeding off the energized home crowd, Saprissa struck first in the 22nd minute with a rebounded effort off a quality corner kick. Sporting KC goalkeeper Eric Kronberg stopped the initial header, but had the ball spill in front of him for Mora to take advantage with an easy tap in.

The goal jolted Saprissa’s attack. Rafael Morales fired a scissor kick inches above the bar in the 28th minute. Later, he nearly positioned himself on the end of a cross for a goal, but the diagonal ball was placed just ahead of his outstretched leg.

Saprissa’s lead all but doubled in 47th minute when it had Sporting KC caught out of position on a speedy counter attack. A one-on-one opportunity developed on the far flank, but defender Kevin Ellis swooped in to halt the sequence inside the 18-yard box.

Ellis was unable to bail out Sporting KC’s defensive miscues two minutes into the second half. Mora found himself in the right place at the right time once again, crossing a deflected ball to Rodriguez who placed it in the back of the net to give Saprissa the decisive advantage in Group 2.

Sporting KC struggled to hold possession long enough to push numbers forward for an opportunity to answer late in the second half. Substitute forward Dom Dwyer gave the visitors their best chance at doing so in the 75th minute, but his free kick sailed over the bar, much to the enjoyment of those sporting maroon.

“Both of the (goals) where off of set pieces. We could of definitely done a lot better on both situations, we should of,” Vermes said.

“Again, I’m not going to deny that they battled for the result. There were a lot of things against us. We went into the game not thinking we were going to have to sub two guys in the first half … It just put a lot on us.”

Here are the match highlights:


  1. 3/3 Costa Rican sides through, which means 3/3 kills on US/Mexican teams. Costa Rica is absolutely soaring as a soccer nation right now. No reason to think they won’t get 2 teams to the CONCACAF semis, and the national team has to be favored to be in the Gold Cup final next summer, if not the current best bet for champions. In the long run, this has to serve as a wake up call for both the USA and Mexico on both the club and national team levels – not because Costa Rica are “supposed” to be bad, but because our efforts look absolutely pathetic in comparison when you compare talent pools (not related to population size), resources, and expected progress as improving soccer nations.

    All Portland and SKC had to do was not lose by more than 1 goal, and they couldn’t manage that. Absolutely disgraceful exit by Red Bull. Also, not much of a job to do for DC United in this group stage, and as a DCU supporter I am not confident at all about having to face Alajuelense in the quarters.

    MLS is re-branding and expanding. USMNT is supposedly entering a new era. You’d think 2016 should serve as a banner year for the USA in soccer with positive growth in MLS and an absolutely huge opportunity when hosting the Copa America Centenario. Yet at this rate it’s hard to be pleased with the “progress”.

      • Fair enough – if MLS teams don’t put a lot of stock into CCL in the first place, bad results don’t necessarily demonstrate a major problem. CCL, however, is one of the only consistent yardsticks for measuring the improvement, or lack thereof, of the quality of MLS relative to other federations. These results do not show any improvement. MLS isn’t going to automatically get stronger because it can sell its broadcast rights for higher sums – I think it’s reasonable that we should be expecting better performances from MLS teams in foreign competition.

  2. Head to head score is a terrible way to decide a tiebreaker. Concacaaf should use the same model as Uefa and use overall GD. How convenient both MLS teams (Kc, Portland) were way ahead on GD yet their final game had to play in a extremely hostile crowd.

    • I think it’s fair when you take the realities of CONCACAF CL into account. 3 team groups with 1 US/Mexican side that is supposed to get through (although we know how that plays out) usually matched with 1 good Central American team and a third lag-behind from the Caribbean or a bottom UNCAF federation (Real Esteli, etc.). At the end of the day, GD would just be about running up the score on the 3rd place team (which the Mexican teams do anyway) rather than a more honest look at which of the top 2 were better.

      It’s tough to get a result south of the border, but that’s life in CONCACAF, and SKC/Portland just couldn’t cut it this year.

    • When you have two teams tied why shouldn’t head to head be the first tiebreaker? Goal difference just encourages running up the score against minnows. I think head to head makes a lot more sense.

  3. Man the whiners really know where to flock to !

    The page that talks about DC being the top team. Not one shows up.

    Where are you guys…do I need to call you out by name ?

    5 posts over there, and two or three are mine.

    You just cherry pick posts that are the easy whine targets ?….wth.

  4. This again just proves JK statements that MLS is not at the same level as other leagues. Yes MLS has improved and i going in the right direction. But top leagues make their CCL finals consistently. Mr. Don you want to prove JK wrong win CCL.

  5. And Garber keeps saying he wants MLS to be a top ten league by 2020. This is proof that MLS has a long long way to go. Don’t care what anyone says when you can’t put away teams from Honduras and Costa Rica you are not anywhere close to being a top ten league. It sad because I want MLS to win, I watch the games latin get here on the east coast and for years all we fans get is loses to teams we should beat and the one year RSL went to the final only to collapse in the second leg at Montarey.

    Please Garber put a massive allocation money bonus out there for advancing and winning this tournament and an even bigger allocation money bonus for winning it and getting to the Club WOrld Cup. It been over a decade now since MLS sent a team to Club WC.

    And STFU about MLS not being profitable and having the money to increase the cap. They need to tap all the money they make thru SUM Marketing and spread the wealth. For those reading if you don’t know what SUM Marketing is, that’s where all the money goes from all the international friendliest various countries and clubs play in the US. They make a killing but not enough goes to MLS.

    • Agree. SKC transfers Rosell , but can’t use the money for bonuses or pay increase for some players without making them DP. Players like Zusi and Besler deserve pay increase without being DP. Why can’t money be use for 300k bonus without salary cap issues?

  6. “A win or draw Sunday would secure Sporting KC the third playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.”

    With a draw and a CCSC win they would drop to 4th, wouldn’t they?

  7. Vemes makes it sound as if Saprissa only had those two set piece chances. They absolutely and thoroughly ran over SCK. It wasn’t even a contest. They were lucky it wasn’t 5-0 at the half

  8. Saprissa show that he was superior than SKC, we had won this tournament before we’d assisted to world’s club championship last 2005 and reached 3th place now Saprissa will win CCL so that way we’ll advance to the club’s world cup and Im sure we’ll beat Real Madrid or whatever club and we’ll become the BEST team around the world

    Watch out Costa Rica’s reloaded soccer!

    • Keith, congrats to your boys! Honestly, the Central American teams deserve all the credit they receive. The teams and the fans put 100% into these games, while Mexican and American teams simply do not care as much as they should. Kudos to Saprissa, La Liga Alajuelense, Herediano, and Olimpia in Honduras.

  9. Another pathetic year for MLS! Nothing new to MLS fans but more dissappointment!

    These mediocre results is the reason MLS needs to change the DP rules!

    • Not really. MLS teams don’t even play their best players. It’s more about changing the attitude towards this competition than anything else.

  10. The results speak more to MLS/Liga MX apathy towards this tournament. If you watch the highlights, you can see genuine enthusiasm amongst the players, coaches, and supporters from the other leagues in the tournament. It seemed that a few years ago MLS clubs actually cared a little about this – now it looks more and more like an obligatory inconvenience to them.

    As for the comments about Seattle and LA, you forget that both of these teams have been to this tourney, and neither have anything to show for it. Results may or may not have been any different. Teams seem happy to get put out of this tournament and it’s a sad thing to see – especially for the supporters that actually care and show up to these matches.

    • The Sounders didn’t win it, so they have nothing to show for it, ok I agree…..but they put up a good showing and gave themselves a chance before, it is just tough to win it.

      For example, they beat Monterrey in Monterrey, advanced in the knockout stage.. I am not setting the bar low by saying these things. I am just saying they have had chances, but it isn’t going to be handed to them.

      As the money comes, if the money comes, then they will win more, not exactly rocket science. In the meantime enjoy the heck out of it.

  11. and MLS keeps looking like a joke in the CCL. The salary cap has to be opened significantly before we can compete regularly in the CCL and the best teams need to be in it. The way our qualification into it goes we rarely have the best teams in it.

    If LA or Seattle were there we would be doing much better.

      • What are you referring to? LAG has always advanced out of their group. Plus they’ve never been blown-out by a Mexican side at home or on the road.

      • Just for the record–while I prefer to remember the good times–the past time that LAG and PRI met in CCL, LA waxed my boys using their freaking reserves.

        Seriously, they pretty much sent what was the equivalent of Galaaxy II and PRI looked incredibly ineffective down in Bayamon. LA handled them easily.

      • Hardly an embarrassment. The Islanders’ scored some miracle goals that game in LA. Then the Galaxy went to PR and beat them on their home turf. Disappointment for sure, but not an embarrassment for them or the league.

    • If our best teams don’t play their best players, what does it matter? Galaxy have been there numberous times and it was always a nice “proof of life” for Jack McBean and Tommy Meyer.

      Hardcore US soccer fans value this tournament and that’s about it. It has minimal appeal. It is not the UEFA CL and won’t be… probably ever. It’s not like there’s some jackpot payday for winning. Or some magical trip to the Camp Nou for supporters. When you say… “looking like a joke” you’re right… but to whom? Who is watching who matters? Mostly, it’s just us hardcores.

    • Two of the 3 Costa Rican teams that advance beat Mexican teams to do so. Liga MX also have only two teams advancing. Also why is this a bad thing? The best two leagues in South American, the Brazilan/Argentina leagues, also lose to clubs from lesser leagues? For me,this is good for Concacaf. Maybe be will start paying attention to the CCL more.

      • I have no problem agreeing with this. Two dominant leagues is not a good recipe for a Champions League..

    • Dan,

      DC finished as the top seed.

      You say the best teams need to be in it. DC won the US Open Cup, DC finished first in the East this year. If my Sounders or the Galaxy want to be in it, it is available….do you want MLS to designate them as the chosen ones ?

      • +1

        And all this talk of LA and Seattle overlooks the fact that the most successful MLS team in CCL was Real Salt Lake. No other team has made it to the final. Maybe DC is about to write their name into CCL history – whatever that’s worth.

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