Sporting KC started their series against Cruz Azul in the CONCACAF Champions League tonight on the right foot riding Kevin Ellis' first professional goal to a 1-0 win over the Mexican giants. Whether that single goal will be enough to see Kansas City through to the semifinals or not remains to be seen.
KC came out and pushed the game right from the start against Cruz Azul. In the seventh minute they should have gone up a goal as the ball fellt to Graham Zusi on the left. Zusi fired a shot but put it well wide of the goal, sending it out for a throw in. In the 17th their early pressure paid off. After some passing on the right, the ball got played to Claudio Bieler who hit a cross field ball with the outside of his foot to an open Ellis. The home grown player cut inside his defender and before he was closed down again fired a shot that squeezed in the near post of Jesus Corona and KC w3nt up 1-0. KC continued to push the game and kept searching for a second goal. Ike Opara fired a shot from long range that Corona had to tip over the bar for a corner. Off the ensuing corner, Ellis headed a ball on goal that Benny Feilhaber tried to flick past Corona, but the Cruz Azul keeper beat him to the ball. Cruz Azul had a good chance themselves as Marco Fabian got in behind KC's defense. But his touch let him down and before he could get an opportunity against Eric Kronberg, Opara recovered and knocked the ball away. Late in the half KC had another golden opportunity as Ellis played Bieler in on goal with only one defender between him. Bieler cut back and forth on Luis Perea before firing a shot towards the corner of the goal, but Corona at full stretch knocked the ball out for a corner kick. Cruz Azul was left frustrated as the teams went into the half time break.
In the second half Cruz Azul came out pressing the game much more and looked much better. They got more of the possession and kept KC locked in deep in their own end. Cruz Azul looked sure to score in the 55th minute as Mariano Pavone got played in behind KC's defense. 1v1 with Kronberg, the striker rounded KC's goalkeeper but Pavone's shot was cleared off the line by a recovering Opara. On the ensuing corner a moment of controversy as the corner was headed onto Fabian at the back post. His header was blocked by the arm of Feilhaber, which was away from his body. The ball then started looping towards goal, but Seth Sinovic cleared the ball off the line. KC found opportunities going forward few and far between but Zusi got off a good effort in the 64th from about 22 yards from goal. His shot left Corona rooted to the ground, but it hit the cross bar and bounced back into play. Cruz Azul kept pushing the ball up field and KC started to look extremely tired as the minutes ticked by, but KC held on and will travel with the lead to Mexico. It won't be easy, but the confidence from this result will hopefully carry over.
Wizards Man of the Match - Kevin Ellis - Not just because of the goal, but because of his defensive play as well. Cruz Azul went at him all night down KC's right and he did a very good job of keeping their attacks in check. Certainly looked like a guy that will be able to contribute more going forward.
Honorable Mention: Ike Opara, Benny Feilhaber's arm
Player Ratings: Kronberg 6, Ellis 8, Opara 7, Besler 6, Sinovic 7, Rosell 6, Nagamura 6, Feilhaber 5, Zusi 5, Bieler 7, Zizzo 6. Subs Peterson 5, Sapong 4, Dwyer NR.