Control of Group 2 in the 2012-2013 CONCACAF Champions League hangs in the balance tonight. Sporting Kansas City travels to Tegucigalpa, Honduras tonight, home of their opponent CD Olimpia. Both teams have defeated Real Esteli on the road to tie at the top of Group 2 with three points each. Both teams play their second match tonight with a significant advantage in the group stage on the line.
A win gives the victors a three point advantage with two matches to play, including a home match with Real Esteli. It allows them the opportunity to clinch the group in their third match, while forcing the loser to play catchup and hope for some help from Real Esteli.
For Sporting Kansas City, tonight's match is one that the absolutely cannot lose. A loss would make winning the two matches at Sporting Park an absolute must while trying to rack up as many goals as possible to win the tiebreakers.
We all know that Robb Heinemann and Peter Vermes will not let this team bow out of the tournament in the group stages. They've worked too hard building a team with good depth to play the excess amount of games that comes with the tournament. If Sporting loses to Olimpia tonight, more starters will be played in the two matches at Sporting Park. That's less rest and more stress for those players as Sporting tries to secure a playoff spot and maybe win some regular season hardware.
A win, however, makes it possible for Sporting to relax a bit for the last two matches. Instead of being forced to win with big margins, all they have to do is play a good game and not lose to Real Esteli in September. Sporting's win in Nicaragua with a mixed lineup would give Vermes confidence to play another mixed lineup, this one more heavy on reserves. It gives starters a break as the league play heats up and it still gives Sporting a good chance to win.
A win would also make Olimpia play catchup. Instead of them relaxing for the final two matches, they are the ones hoping for help from Esteli and hoping that Sporting will slip up. Instead of controlling their own destiny, they have to hope for fate to swing their way. It's much better for Sporting not to be in a "must play catch-up mindset" when it comes to these types of tournaments.
A draw would even be good for Sporting. Assuming they both win their second match, both at their respective home grounds, with Real Esteli, it sets up the final match at Sporting Park. It would be good for Sporting to have 20,000 Kansas Citians cheering them on in a win or go home match than 35,000 Tegucigalpians.
Sporting needs to go into tonight's match with an attitude that they cannot lose. There's too much stress to be had if they do and it could change the complex of the final two matches. A draw is fine, a win is preferable, a loss is nearly devastating.