It was 2002, the last time Sporting Kansas City, then the Wizards, had advanced to a quarterfinal of a regional tournament. Needing only a draw Wednesday against CD Olimpia to advance to next year's CONCACAF Champions League knockout stage, manager Peter Vermes and company made it clear that the mindset was getting a result to set themselves up for an early start to their 2014 campaign.
Wednesday's 0-0 draw wasn't necessarily the result that Sporting Kansas City was looking for, but it was enough to advance the club to the next round, only the 11th time a team from the U.S. has qualified for the Champions League quarterfinals.
"We dominated the game," Vermes said after the match. "We had 70 percent possession and more chances. I thought we had very good run of play. We really didn't give anything way. I'm still trying to understand, on the goal that we scored, what the actual call was, but at the end we needed to win or tie the game. For us advancing, being the first time that this club has entered into this competition, it was a major goal of ours this year, so we're extremely pleased that we've advanced to the knockout stage. We'll start preparing now for next year."
The match was physical from the opening whistle to the final possession. Honduran-side CD Olimpia spent most of the match bunkered down on their side of the pitch, while Sporting Kansas City controlled the tone of the match on the attack. The two styles of play clashed early on and official Joel Aguilar was forced into calling 31 fouls throughout the 90 minutes.
"I think the referee performed very well," CD Olimpia coach Juan Carlos Espinoza said after the match. "It's a fact that when you're local, they try to favor the local team. However, I would like to see the plays in order to give a better comment about it."
Vermes met Espinoza's comments on Aguilar, who's notably from El Salvador, and the possibility of "local team" favor with much dismay.
"Wow - and I'll say wow again. Obviously, he was watching a completely different game. That wasn't the case at all. Unfortunately, everybody has their own opinion on what the game looks like, but for us there's not much to comment on but basically we've advanced and we go the knockout stage, and that's the most important thing to us."
Despite the gritty play, Sporting Kansas City had several opportune scoring chances, including Graham Zusi's aforementioned goal that was called back in the 54th minute due to an arguable foul call inside the box. Vermes added in the post game press conference that he wasn't given clarity as to why the call was made by the fourth official, but that it was just one of several looks the home-side had on goal.
Olimpia eventually challenged Sporting Kansas City's control of the match around the 80th minute, though, when the squad started throwing numbers forward, hoping to steal a late goal and send the sold-out 18,467 Sporting Park crowd home disappointed.
"I was actually surprised that they waited that long to start throwing guys forward," goalkeeper Eric Kronberg said after the match. "Like in the 75th [minute], the keeper was still holding the ball. I was surprised of the pace of the game that they wanted, but their goal was to get a late one and I think we did well to hold them off."
With the draw, Sporting Kansas City guarantees that it will be a 6th, 7th, or 8th seed in March's quarterfinal round of the CONCACAF Champions League. Tentatively, the squad will host the knockout match on March 5, 2014 and will be on the road March 18, 2014 with the aggregate system, though the dates may change with group matches still left to be played.
Sporting Kansas City will have a quick turnaround as they depart for Philadelphia tomorrow to finish out the MLS season Saturday against the Philadelphia Union at 2 p.m. CDT. The team will be eyeing the Supporter's Shield, and will need both a win and dropped points by New York in their home match against Chicago Sunday.