For the first time since the Concacaf Champions League was launched in 2008, more MLS teams than Liga MX teams reached the quarterfinals.
Atlanta United came back from 3-1 down in
the first leg to cruise into the quarterfinals with a 4-0 win over Costa Rica's Herediano at Kennesaw State's Fifth Third Bank Stadium.
Sporting KC took a 3-0 lead to struggling Liga MX
Toluca, but even the altitude -- 8,750 feet above sea level -- could not help Los Diablos Rojos, who became only the third Mexican team to lose to an MLS team at home in 27 games when they fell,
Atlanta United and Sporting KC will join the Houston Dynamo and New York Red Bulls in the quarterfinals, which begin next week. The only other time MLS sent four teams to the
quarterfinals was in 2016 -- when they all came up against Mexican teams and lost.
This year, Mexico's Monterrey, Santos and Tigres also advanced along with the tournament surprise,
Panama's CAI, a 5-1 aggregate winner over 2018 runner-up Toronto FC.
Both Atlanta United and Sporting KC took care of matters quickly. By the 9th minute, goals by Josef Martinez
and Julian Gressel
pulled the Five Stripes even with Herediano, 3-3 on aggregate, and ahead on their away goal. A second Martinez goal and late goal by defender Leandro Gonzalez Pirez
gave Atlanta United a convincing win.
The difference between Atlanta in Costa Rica and at home a week later was like night and day. Ezequiel Barco
had two assists, his first
multi-assist match with Atlanta United, which will face Monterrey in the quarterfinals. Feb. 28 in Kennesaw, Ga. Atlanta United 4
J.Martinez 1, 63, Gressel 9, Gonzalez Pirez 83. Atlanta United --
Guzan; Gonzalez Pirez, Robinson, Parkhurst; Shea, Nagbe, Remedi (Larentowicz 88), Gressel; Barco,
J.Martinez (Williams 81), P.Martinez (Villalba 70). Herediano --
Cambronero; Arellano (Escoe 46), Brown, Salazar, Fuller; Marin, Azofeifa, Diaz (Torres 64), Saravia, Granados (Lugo 72);
8,589. Gerso Fernandes
ended any suspense at the Estadio Nemesio Diez when he scored in the 8th minute and put Sporting KC ahead 4-0 on aggregate and left
Toluca needing to score five goals to win.
The only two times Sporting KC had previously traveled to play at above 6,000 feet were for Concacaf matches in Mexico, and it lost 6-1 to
Morelia in 2002 and 5-1 to Cruz Azul in 2014.
But on Thursday, it easily cruised into the quarterfinals against CAI with a 2-0 win sealed by Hungarian Krisztian Nemeth
62nd-minute penalty kick.
Toluca, which had Adrian Mora
red carded on the play that led to Nemeth's goal, is winless in its last eight games with 3-0, 3-0, 4-0 and 2-0 losses in
its last four games. The game as the first for interim coach Jose Luis Real, the former Chivas USA coach who took over following the dismissal of Hernan
Cristante on Monday. Feb. 28 in Toluca
Toluca 0 Sporting
. Goals: Fernandes 8, Nemeth pen. 62. Toluca --
Talavera; Salinas, Mora, Maidana, Gonzalez; Barrientos (Rubio 72), Rios, Medina, Acero; Gigliotti (Garcia 64), Abella (Mendoza
46) Sporting KC --
Melia; Zusi, Fontas, Besler, Sinovic; Ilie, Espinoza, Gutierrez (Rowe 70); Russell (Salloi 66), Nemeth (Hurtado 73), Fernandes. Att.: