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Home Grown fullback Kevin Ellis delivers Champions League victory for Sporting Kansas City against Cruz Azul

Mar 12, 2014, 10:06 PM EDT

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Sporting Kansas City’s choice to hold back some regulars from Saturday’s team that opened the Major League Soccer season paid off on Wednesday, with fullback Kevin Ellis’s early goal proving enough to hand the team a 1-0 CONCACAF Champions League win over visiting Cruz Azul. The victory gave the defending MLS champions a lead ahead of next week’s second leg in Mexico City, with La Machina suffering their first loss of tournament.

Ellis’s winner came in the 17th minute after play build down the right found the team’s nominal right back in the left of the penalty area. With his second touch, the 22-year-old Home Grown defender beat José de Jésus Corona inside the left post, the shot’s power pushing the ball past a goalkeeper who appeared to have his vision slightly blocked by one of his defenders.

The goal was part of a first half that saw Kansas City’s pressure cause troubles for Mexico’s leaders. Cruz Azul, unlike Toluca last night at San Jose, elected to start a full-strength squad in Kansas, yet a team featuring Marco Fabián, Joao Rojas, Mariano Pavone, Cristian Giménez and Mauro Fórmica couldn’t muster a meaningful threaten Eric Kronberg’s goal. With Claudio Bieler nearly putting the hosts up two in the middle of the period, Sporting took a deserved one-goal lead into half-time.

In the second period, however, Pavone nearly broke through early, with a ball played past a high line allowing the Argentine attacker to one-on-one with Kronberg. After rounding the keeper just inside the penalty area, Pavone saw a shot into a presumably open net blocked by Ike Opara, who had recovered to defend Kronberg’s abandoned goal.

Moments later, Cruz Azul had another potential equalizer saved off the line after the redirection of a corner kick forced Seth Sinovic to come up with the back line’s second save in as many minutes. The play was controversial, however, for a possible handball on Benny Feilhaber, with replays unable to conclusively show whether the U.S. international, standing near the goal line, had intentionally kept the ball out of goal.

Cruz Azul would continue to be the more controlling side throughout the rest of the game, though a late ball over the top of the Mexicans’ defense nearly gave Claudio Bieler a chance to double Sporting’s lead. A good read from Corona to come out of his area to clear the ball prevented the Kansas City striker from getting a shot on goal, keeping the home side’s lead at one.

Come full-time, Sporting had secured their first CONCACAF Champions League victory at Sporting Park, a result that will emboldened them ahead of next week’s trip to Estadio Azul. With one of the best defenses in Major League Soccer, Peter Vermes has reason to believe his side can keep a clean sheet against the Cementeros..

But down only one, Cruz Azul should still be considered most likely to go through. Having thrown their best at MLS’s champions tonight, however, Luis Fernando Tena’s team also learned Liga MX success may not necessarily translate to CONCACAF Champions League results.

Though Kansas City did little more than hold serve, it’s now up to Cruz Azul to do the same next week in Mexico.

  1. vols84 - Mar 13, 2014 at 12:29 AM

    Shout out to Oak Park High School. Kevin Ellis for the win.

  2. crossmlk - Mar 13, 2014 at 2:58 PM

    “Little more than hold serve”! That is an asinine comment.

    • Richard Farley - Mar 13, 2014 at 2:59 PM

      It’s a 1-0 win, at home, in a two-legged tie. It’s also not the first time that idiom has been used to apply to that result (which makes me super-original, I know).

  3. crossmlk - Mar 13, 2014 at 10:34 PM

    Richard, Sorry I shouldn’t have been snarky. My point is a 1-0 win is a win, it’s a result. Holding court in my opinion would be a tie. With the result now Cruz Azul has to get a result which puts SKC in a significantly better spot than CA. Will they win? Who knows. They might not even be likely too but your comment diminishes a very significant victory for SKC and MLS.

    • Richard Farley - Mar 13, 2014 at 10:34 PM

      No need to apologize. Apology not accepted.

    • soccerbrain - Mar 14, 2014 at 9:48 AM

      A 1-0 lead, going into Mexico – not nearly good enough. MLS has been there, blown that. The holding serve at 1-0 works, SKC has a tough job next week.

  4. thewalkoffktxt - Mar 14, 2014 at 2:00 AM

    Reality Juice tells me Cruz Azul wins.

    Optimism tells me Sporting can at least draw: 0-0, 1-1, 2-2.

    If Sporting can beat Cruz Azul — the fourth-biggest team in Mexico — that’s a massive W for a side that wants to increase its profile, and for a league looking to increase its legitimacy to the Latino population in the U.S.

  5. crossmlk - Mar 14, 2014 at 11:38 AM

    I’m not Pollyanna-ish about the big job ahead but it’s not the gloom and doom that statements like “not nearly good enough” paint. SKC and or LA could go down to Mexico and get blown out but at this moment they are in better positions to advance than their opponents by virtue of having leads. You guys can choose to live your lives with the glass half empty if you like ; ) but for me in that way lies madness.

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