Three Liga MX teams and a lone MLS team comprise the semifinals in the Concacaf Champions League.
Sporting KC woke up just in the nick of time on Thursday night, scoring 3 goals in the final 16 minutes to survive an upset bid by Panama’s Independiente. The Wizards trailed 2-1 in the aggregate scoreline after the first leg in Panama and, as the clock ticked past 70, Sporting KC looked like they might suffer the indignity of a loss to a first-time CCL participant.
But the Wizards kept their poise and kept pressing forward. In minute 74, the hosts lined up for a corner kick. Husky defender Botond Barath was out above the far post and he rose above his marker to head down to his left where the ball found the foot of Krisztian Nemeth and the Hungarian international poked it home through a crowd.
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The 1-0 score would have been enough for Kansas City to advance, but Independiente still had more than 15 minutes to chase the equalizer (and a 3-2 aggregate lead). Seven minutes later, Gerso Fernandes got into the box down the left side, zipped a pass to Johnny Russell at the opposite post and Russell one-touched back into the middle for the onrushing Roger Espinoza who roofed it from about 6 meters.
Still, the 2-0 lead was not foolproof. An Independiente goal would have produced an aggregate tie and set up a penalty kick shootout. No such luck. Nemeth deflected home a lovely, low centering pass from Fernandes and KC clinched the series.
Independiente acquitted itself well in the CCL, defeating Toronto FC in the Round of 16 on a 5-1 aggregate and then shocked Sporting KC with a hard-fought 2-1 win in Panama last week. But in the cold conditions in Kansas City, Independiente came up short. Sporting KC outshot Independiente 27-5, getting 13 shots on goal and forcing goalie José Carlos Guerra to make some fine saves. The Wizards also enjoyed 73% possession.
Kansas City advances to a semifinal match-up against the Monterrey Rayados who finished off defending MLS champions Atlanta United on a 3-1 aggregate score after losing only 1-0 in Atlanta on Wednesday night.
The Rayados sat back and conceded possession to Atlanta, but played strong positional defense, only allowing 4 shots on goal (United took 13 shots total). Monterrey tackled cleanly, chased the ball effectively and played smart team defense, committing only 10 fouls on the game.
Atlanta could not unlock the Monterrey defense until minute 77 when Josef Martínez got one past keeper Marcelo Barovero. But that was the only highlight of the night for the home team.
Monterrey will host Sporting KC in the first leg on April 3 then visits Kansas City on April 10. In the other semifinal, the Tigres host Santos on April 3 and the return leg in Torreón is on April 10.