The game was far from pretty tonight in Esteli, Nicaragua, but Sporting KC walked away from the game with a point against Real Esteli. The result actually sees Esteli move to the top of the group with two points, but both of their home games have now been played and face trips to Costa Rica and the United States.
The game couldn't have started much worse for Kansas City, in just the 6th minute Esteli's Daniel Da Silva was played in behind KC's back line 1v1 with Jon Kempin. Kempin came up with a nice save as Da Silva came in on goal, but the ball bounced into the path of Jorge Claros, who was trailing the play and bounced into the net giving Esteli an early 1-0 lead over Sporting. KC stepped up their game and controlled preceding from there, looking to find an equalizer. It came10 minutes after the opener. Esteli had been called for a handball just outside the box. Graham Zusi and Toni Dovale were over the ball. Dovale took the kick and perfectly curled it up and over the wall and just inside the near post to level the score at 1-1. Esteli's Justo Lorente didn't even move on the play. KC maintained possession of the ball for much of the half, but really struggled to create opportunities against Esteli. Esteli would actually have the better chances, hitting the outside of the post with a header after a free kick near the corner flag.
The second half saw Esteli come out and really out play Kansas City for the most part. Da Silva again had an opportunity as he got past his defender, but again Kempin came off his line and made a good save that was then cleaned up by Claros. KC had another chance off a set piece as Benny Feilhaber's lofted ball into the box pinged around before slowly rolling into the arms of Lorente. Kempin was again called upon to make a big save in the 81st minute as a great cross from Esteli's right floated to Juan Barrerra at the back post. But Kempin did well to beat away Barrerra's effort and knock it wide for a corner kick. The last 10 minutes of the game was virtually one way traffic headed towards Kempin's goal. Sporting looked tired and worn out late in the game. Esteli looked to take advantage, creating a number of opportunities, but not really challenging Kempin too much with shots. They had a header off a free kick that flashed just wide of Kempin's far post. Kempin did have some issues with a punch late on, but the ensuing shot was sent high of the goal. KC was able to hold on and take the point on the road. KC will be happy to get out with a point, Esteli, with their play in the second half will feel they probably deserved all three points tonight. KC following the one on the road, three at home point philosophy one would hope will now need to win at home, which they couldn't do during the group phase of last year's tournament.
Wizards Man of the Match - Jon Kempin - Sporting's third string keeper did a very good job tonight with his shot stopping and again did well in commanding his back line. I'd still like to see him improve his control of the box and not punch as much, but hopefully that will come with more experience.
Player Ratings - Kempin 7, Ellis 4, Collin 5, Besler 5, Sinovic 5, Claros 3, Olum 4, Zusi 5, Saad 4, Sapong 4, Dovale 6. Subs Zizzo 5, Feilhaber 5, Dwyer 4.