When Eddie Johnson skied the final PK of the US Open Cup final over the bar, it gave Sporting KC their first trophy under their new name, and the team's first trophy since 2004. Before we continue on, let's relive that night again with a video that still gives me goosebumps.
Now that we've relived that. Not only did the win give KC their first trophy, it also qualified them for another competition next year. Next season, Sporting KC will compete in the CONCACAF Champions' League, the confederation championship of the CONCACAF region. The 2013-2014 CCL will kick off around the beginning of August, as it did this year.
The reason I bring it up now is because tonight the tournament kicks back off for the first time after Sporting won the US Open Cup title. Tonight on FSC Real Salt Lake play at home vs Tauro of Panama in their second group game. For an idea of what Sporting KC could face on the road, turn on FSC tomorrow when the Houston Dynamo play FAS in El Salvador. CONCACAF road environments are notoriously a tough place for MLS teams to play. Up until the last two years or so, MLS has had an extremely poor record on the road throughout the rest of CONCACAF. The league has started to do better in many of the rest of the locations, save one, Mexico. Only last year did Dallas win the first ever game south of the border by an MLS squad.
So how is the tournament set up? Starting in 2008, CONCACAF went from a traditional knockout tournament to a larger tournament that included a group phase. From the 2008-2009 version of the tournament 2011-2012 version of the tournament there was a qualifying stage and then the teams that won the qualifiers and other teams were put into 4, 4 team groups. The top two teams in that group advanced to the quarterfinals. From then on it was a home-home competition between the remaining teams in a knock out style tournament.
Starting with the 2012-2013 tournament, things changed. No longer is there a qualifying stage for the group stage. Instead all the teams that qualifying go into the group stage. And instead of groups of four, there are 8 groups of 3. That means fewer match days for the teams in the group stage as they'll play 4 instead of 6. The top team in each of the groups advances to the quarterfinals, where the format remains the same.
If the tournament remains with the same format, in the group stage, Sporting will be grouped with 1 or 2 teams from Central America. If it's only one, the other team in KC's group will be a team from the Caribbean. KC would not face another MLS side or a team from Mexico in the group stage. Those match ups would not happen until the knockout rounds of the tournament.
This will be Kansas City's 5th foray into a competitive international competition. In the previous 4 competitions, Kansas City is 4-9-4 (W-L-D) in international competitions. The team's first trip into international competitions was in 2001 when the team played in the Copa Mercanorte. The team went 1-4-1 in the tournament, finishing 3rd in the group of 4 teams. The team's 2 results came against Barcelona SC out of Ecuador. The team lost their games against Santos Laguna of Mexico and Sporting Cristal of Peru. That international competition is remembered for a curious refereeing move and the fact that KC became the first professional sports team to play after the events of 9/11, playing on 9/12 down in Peru.
KC's second trip into international play was the next year when KC went into the CONCACAF Champions' Cup (the precursor to the current CCL). KC won their first round match up beating Trinidad side W Connection 3-0 on aggregate. In the second round KC faced Santos Laguna again and made some history. KC lost the first leg in Mexico 2-1. At home in Kansas City, KC won 2-0, advancing 3-2 on aggregate, making them the first, and still only MLS side to win a home-home knockout match up with a Mexican league team. In the semifinals though KC's run came to an end. Against Morelia, KC lost 6-1 down in Mexico before drawing 1-1 in the return leg in the United States to go out 7-2 on aggregate.
KC's next trip was in 2005 when KC went into the CONCACAF Champions' Cup again. KC played Costa Rica side Deportivo Saprissa. After a 0-0 draw at Arrowhead, KC took a late lead in Costa Rica on a goal by Jose Burciaga. Saprissa tied it in the 90th minute. At the time there was no away goal rule (which would have seen KC through). Instead the game went to extra time where Saprissa scored again to win 2-1. KC's last trip into international competitions was the 2009 SuperLiga. While KC never left the US for the tournament it was still some international experience. KC drew with then sister club Atlas 0-0 in St. Louis in one of the hottest, most boring games ever. That was followed by a 1-1 draw in New England before KC lost the final group game to old friends, Santos Laguna, 3-1.
For those keeping track, that's 19 goals for KC in international competitions. The team's leading scorers are Chris Brown and Roy Lassiter who both have scored 3 for KC. Currently there are only 2 players on KC's roster that have scored in international play. Kei Kamara has scored 3 Champions' League goals for Houston and a SuperLiga goal as well. Jacob Peterson has also scored a champions league goal. The only other player currently on KC's roster that has experience playing in the Champions' League/Cup is Bobby Convey. Although Julio Cesar has experience from playing in Mexico and Central America, and Roger Espinoza, Graham Zusi, and Matt Besler have experience in tough environments from international call ups. And that's without mentioning KC's other European players who have played in some tough environments, but the ones in Europe are a bit different than the ones in Central America. Besler, Espinoza, Michael Harrington, and Seth Sinovic also have some international experience from previous SuperLiga tournaments.
So get ready next year, it's a bit of a long shot, but winning the CCL and KC will find themselves in Morocco in December of 2014 potentially playing against the likes of Barcelona, Manchester City, or Bayern Munich at the Club World Cup.