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 — Sporting Kansas City came away last week with a 3-0 win over Deportivo Toluca FC in the first leg of the CONCACAF Champions League Round of 16.
Let’s take a look at three things we learned from that match before SKC kicks off Thursday night’s second leg.
SKC pleased with Fontas
It wasn’t exactly good news when Ike Opara departed Kansas City. The back line anchor had been a major factor in SKC being one of the league’s top defenses over the past several years. But SKC also knew that it had Andreu Fontas to plug into that spot. And so far, SKC has been pleased with his performance there.
“He’s excellent on the ball,” SKC manager Peter Vermes said. “He’s very, very smart and reads the game incredibly well. I also think that it’s throwing teams off a little. He is left-footed playing in the right channel. That’s not normal. Usually you have two right footed guys that play back there. Usually you don’t have two lefts. I thought he managed the game very well. He’s very smart and stepped in when he had to. He’s just very good on the ball and that helps us. We’re a team that wants to play with the ball and you can’t have one weak link out there. He provides with another level of play.”
Fernandes’s craftiness bodes well for SKC
SKC forward Gerso Fernandes was nearly a one-man show Thursday night. He was a major factor in both Ilie Sanchez and Krisztian Nemeth’s goals. He was everywhere on the field, squirming his way through even the tightest spaces. And he scored his own, in the 52nd minute – celebrating by putting the ball under his jersey, an ode to his pregnant wife.
It was a big night for Fernandes. And getting into that form so early on in the season bodes well for SKC’s offense going forward.
“I have to be honest in the preseason he’s been scoring game after game,” Vermes said. “He’s been giving great assists as well. His involvement with the team has been tremendous. For him to get this in the first game and for him to play the way he did is a great start for sure.”
In an SKC offense that will be without Diego Rubio this season, Fernandes’s creativity on the ball will play a big role.
A commanding win – but anything can happen
The only rule of the Concacaf Champions League is it sometimes feels like there are no rules. Kansas City came away Thursday night with a dominant win over Toluca. But this is still the CCL, and anything can happen. SKC has to travel to Mexico for next Thursday’s second leg – and that will involve some altitude training in the interim.
There’s no denying how dominant SKC looked Thursday – but things can equalize much quicker, especially in a place at 8,000+ feet above sea level.
“I think the big thing for us is getting prepared to play at the altitude that their homefield presents — 8,700-8,800 feet is a difficult proposition for any team,” Vermes said. “We’re going to have to be ready. It’s one thing if you’re in form and you’ve played in a lot of games and you have soccer fitness under you. It can be a little bit easier but the fact that this is our first competitive game, that’s what makes this so difficult.”