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Ilie Sanchez golazo seals deal for Sporting KC in 3-0 CCL win over Toluca

Sporting Kansas City midfielder Ilie Sanchez (6) is congratulated by teammates Johnny Russell (7), Matt Besler (5) and Brad Evans (4) after his goal during the second half of a CONCACAF soccer match against Toluca in Kansas City, Kan., Thursday, Feb. 21, 2019. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)

KANSAS CITY, KAN. — An Ilie Sanchez golazo served as the exclamation mark for Sporting Kansas City, as it took down Mexico’s Deportivo Toluca FC 3-0 in the first leg of the Concacaf Champions League Round of 16 Thursday night.

Gerso Fernandes started the action on the far side, tying up a couple of defenders before lofting a ball toward Sanchez in the 73rd minute. Sanchez timed his leap flawlessly, catching the ball on his foot and firing in one motion. His shot smashed into the crossbar and directly down behind the white line. That goal was the dagger, cushioning Kansas City’s two-goal lead into three.

Seth Sinovic nearly put Kansas City on the board first, in what would have been a fun CONCACAF occurrence (the defender has scored only four goals in his eight-year career, including once during CONCACAF play). He launched a volley shot in the 25th minute that bent inside and skated over the top of the net, one of SKC’s first real chances.

But it was a Fernandes-Krisztian Nemeth connection (one of several on the night) that notched SKC’s first goal in the 35th minute. Fernandes won a ball in the middle of the box and turned and dumped it behind him to Nemeth. The forward took a couple of quick steps and found space for his shot, giving Kansas City an early lead.

“I saw Gerso go behind the defense and I followed the situation,” Nemeth said. “All of a sudden – I don’t know how – the ball came to me and I tried to be patient to find the goal. I tried to bring the ball to the free spot and shoot it. There (were) three guys in front of me so I had to be patient to finish it.”

That Fernandes-Nemeth chemistry would show up again later, too. From the jump, the two sparked SKC’s offense against a high-pressing Toluca team that was leaving space to create.

“I thought from the attacking perspective we had a really good understanding of what we wanted to take advantage of,” SKC manager Peter Vermse said. “I thought that Gerso’s movement off the ball was tremendous. I thought that Nemeth was excellent to play through.”

Fernandes was everywhere in terms of crafting opportunities. But he took his turn on the scoresheet in the second half, after a little give-and-go action with Nemeth. The ball bounced off Nemeth in the box, but the Toluca defenders weren’t organized enough for a clearance. Fernandes was there to fire it in from a diagonal, and SKC doubled its lead.

“I was actually trying to assist (Nemeth) again,” Fernandes said. “But the ball bounced back to me and I had to put it in.”

Sanchez’s highlight-reel golazo 20 minutes later sealed the deal in front of 13,927 in attendance at a frigid Children’s Mercy Park. It was only the second time in tournament history that an American team beat a Mexican team by three goals.

SKC will travel to Toluca next Thursday for the second leg of the series. Kickoff is slated for 9 p.m. CT.

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