Sporting KC's early work pays dividends with 3-0 win over Liga MX foe

Concacaf's placement of Sporting Kansas City into Pot 2 for the Scotiabank Concacaf Champions League draw forced it to open against a Mexican team, but that was no obstacle as it opened its 2019 season with a 3-0 victory over Toluca.

The margin of victory tied an MLS record for the biggest win against a Liga MX club in Concacaf play -- the LA Galaxy beat Santos, 4-1, in the first game an MLS team ever played in the old Concacaf Champions Cup in 1997 -- though Sporting KC manager Peter Vermes isn't naive to believe that the round-of-16 series has been decided, not with next Thursday's second leg in Toluca.

"We haven't even played an MLS game," he said afterwards, "so we've got a long way to go. I think the big thing for us is getting prepared to play at the altitude that their home field presents. Playing at 8,800 feet is a difficult proposition for any team. We're going to have to be ready. It's one thing if you're in form and you've played in a lot of games and you have soccer fitness under you. It can be a little bit easier but the fact that this is our first competitive game, that's what makes this so difficult. We're going to Albuquerque, New Mexico, to train in altitude for about five to six days. That's going to help a little bit with us getting acclimated."

Sporting KC was rewarded for its enterprise throughout the game with goals from Krisztian Nemeth, Gerso Fernandes and Ilie, the latter with a spectacular volley 20 yards.

"I thought from the attacking perspective," said Vermes, "we had a really good understanding of what we wanted to take advantage of. I thought that Gerso's movement off the ball was tremendous. I thought that Nemeth was excellent to play through. He's always very good in very tight spaces in and around the box."

Sporting KC was eliminated in the 2018 Western Conference final to Portland but quickly regrouped. Vermes got all of his offseason moves out of the way quickly so he could have everyone available for preseason, which began a week early.

"We have quality guys on our team," he said. "They worked very, very hard. Ever since the last game last year, they kind of knew what was in front of us. We had a big talk about it. We laid out a plan physically while they were in their offseason. They did the work and we started a little bit earlier than we normally would have. I think we had the best preseason we've ever had, and I commend the players for that. At the end of the day, if they don't come to work every day, then you don't have the best preseason. Credit to them -- they worked hard. But this is just one leg. This is just one game. We have a second leg here that is going to be very difficult and we realize that."

Feb. 21 in Kansas City, Kan.
Sporting KC 3 Toluca 0. Goals: Nemeth 35, Fernandes 52, Sanchez 72.
Sporting KC -- Melia; Zusi, Fontas, Besler, Sinovic; Ilie, Espinoza (Rowe 78), Gutierrez; Russell, Nemeth (Hurtado 82), Fernandes (Salloi 87)
Toluca -- Talavera; Salinas, Maidana, Tobio, Gonzalez; Pardo, Rios (Acero 76), Mancuello, Barrientos (Lopez 62), Mendoza; Triverio (Gigliotti 21).
Att.: 13,927.
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