Mar 20, 2014, 12:59 AM EDT
The defending Major League Soccer champions didn’t give fans much to talk about. After Wednesday’s performance in Mexico City, most MLS supporters will prefer to forget than discuss. Though Benny Feilhaber’s late first half goal gave Sporting Kansas City an away goals edge going into halftime at Estadio Azul, the second leg of Sporting’s CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal was all Cruz Azul. With three goals from Mariano Pavone and insurance from Mauro Formica and Cristian Giménez, La Machina are through to the tournament’s semifinals, their 5-1 demolition of the MLS Cup holders belittling any notion Sporting could preserve the 1-0 lead that earned in Kansas.
Given what we’ve seen over the last four years from a physical, often oppressive Kansas City quad, the result was a complete shock, one that reminded viewers of a era they thought dead. It wasn’t so long ago that MLS teams would go to Mexico can be embarrassed by teams that looked far superior to their MLS counterparts, yet in recent years, the league had made strides. But between the Galaxy’s performance in Tijuana and Sporting’s performance in the capital, MLS turned back the clock. The difference in class between Xolos as Cruz Azul was shocking to those used to seeing the Galaxy and Kansas City near the top of MLS’s standings.
Wednesday’s shock started in the second minute, when Joao Rojas set up Pavone for the host’s opening goal. Twenty-one minutes later, Liga MX’s leaders had completely reversed its leg one deficit, with the Argentine’s second goal of the night giving them a 2-1 aggregate lead. Within 23 minutes, all the hopes Sporting had of carrying their MLS success into Champions League seemed to have evaporated.
Then came their moment of hope. Dribbling around Marco Fabian at the edge of the penalty box, Feilhaber drilled a shot from 20 yards out at goalkeeper José de Jésus Corona’s lower right hand corner. Unable to get down for the ball quick enough, Corona could not prevent Sporting from taking an advantage into half-time, the 2-2 aggregate score giving the visitors the away goals tiebreaker.
Whatever hope came with that advantage evaporated within 10 minutes. That’s when Pavone, in the 55th minute, completed his hat trick. Then came Fórmica’s goal (66′). Then Gímenez’s (70′). As bad as the Galaxy were in the first half against Tijuana, Sporting may have been worse, and for longer, against Cruz Azul. Relentless, ruthless, and intent on building an insurmountable lead, La Machina laid highlighted the lingering Liga MX-MLS divide.
For Sporting, it was a bad night. It was a terrible night. It was a night that nobody around the MLS champions could have envisioned when they took off for Mexico City. And if anybody near Cruz Azul saw this coming, their veins are probably full of Machina blue. This was an aberration.
But it’s an aberration that broke against MLS, and embarrassingly so. This was MLS’s best, as crowned in December. And it was Mexico’s best, according to the current standings. While Cruz Azul does have the advantage of being fully in-season, is that advantage worth four goals? Especially when Sporting knew this game was coming? Considering the Galaxy ultimately lost by one in Tijuana while San Jose get a draw at Toluca, it’s difficult to apply the “out of season” excuse.
Sporting were just bad, giving a performance they won’t be able to redeem until the next Champions League. On a night when San Jose nearly advanced to the semifinals, the defending champions provided a stark, surprising contrast to MLS’s positive potential.
2014 MLS Cup rematch: For the New England Revolution, it’s a new season, different game against LA Galaxy
May 29, 2015, 4:10 PM EDT
On Fox Sports 1 this Sunday, the New England Revolution face LA Galaxy in a 2014 MLS Cup rematch.
May 29, 2015, 3:30 PM EDT
Chelsea’s title-winning team dominates our picks. But there are still plenty of surprise inclusions.
May 29, 2015, 3:20 PM EDT
As the soccer world continues to react to Sepp Blatter’s fifth-term as FIFA president, his 72-year-old former VP is basically telling the law to take a long walk off a short pier.
May 29, 2015, 2:05 PM EDT
We’re in the shadow of just one rushed afternoon, and the FBI and others are watching the money float off the yacht, hoping to strike.
May 29, 2015, 2:00 PM EDT
This award went down to the final vote. Do you agree with our pick?
Prince Ali Bin Al-Hussein withdraws from second vote; Cocky Blatter speaks in power, references “offshore” future
May 29, 2015, 1:28 PM EDT
“I’m not perfect. Nobody’s perfect, but together we go.” Inspiring.
May 29, 2015, 1:02 PM EDT
There were 209 votes, and nations could abstain from voting as well.
May 29, 2015, 12:47 PM EDT
Can the Gunners win a second-straight FA Cup? Sherwood’s Villa stand in the way.
May 29, 2015, 12:17 PM EDT
Aston Villa is hoping to keep the 24-year-old Belgian, who has scored 49 goals in 99 matches since coming to the England from Genk in 2012.
May 29, 2015, 11:15 AM EDT
One man dominates our votes. He probably dominates your picks too…
May 29, 2015, 11:06 AM EDT
Prince Ali Bin Al-Hussein and Sepp Blatter have addressed voters ahead of Friday’s presidential election, and we’re onto the vote.
May 29, 2015, 10:23 AM EDT
The United States kicks off its U-20 World Cup run with a match against Myanmar at Midnight, and will look to emerge from a relatively winnable group with Ukraine and hosts New Zealand.
May 29, 2015, 9:15 AM EDT
Kane, De Gea, Hazard… who came out on top?
May 29, 2015, 9:09 AM EDT
The once-capped Austrian played club ball with LASK Linz in his home country until 2012.
May 29, 2015, 8:10 AM EDT
Thankfully, the anonymous threat led to nothing, though it’s worth noting the media wasn’t immediately told there was danger.
May 29, 2015, 7:53 AM EDT
Manchester United is among the other clubs said to be targeting Clyne, but the back is said to prefer Liverpool.
May 29, 2015, 7:30 AM EDT
Week 13 of the 2015 MLS season is here! What games are must-watch this weekend?
May 28, 2015, 11:13 PM EDT
The U-20 World Cup kicks off late Thursday night (US time). Get yourself caught up on what — and who — to watch.
May 28, 2015, 8:52 PM EDT
Landing Ancelotti would be the best thing AC Milan have done in years.
May 28, 2015, 7:15 PM EDT
Sunil Gulati is putting his not only talking the talk, but walking the walk, with regard to much-needed reform in world soccer.
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