Sporting Kansas City staves off a sweep of MLS clubs in quarterfinals

Sporting Kansas City staved off a sweep of MLS clubs in the Scotiabank Concacaf Champions League quarterfinals when it scored three late goals to beat Panama's CAI, 3-0, and move into the semifinals, 4-2, on aggregate.

Sporting KC, which advanced to the semifinals of Concacaf play for the first time since 2002, will face Mexico's Monterrey in the semifinals. Tigres and Santos will meet in the other semifinal. The three Liga MX teams all eliminated MLS teams by a combined margin of 12-3. Only once before has four MLS teams reached the quarterfinals, and they were swept in 2016.

Elimination at the hands of CAI would have been an embarrassment and followed the provincial club's stunning victory over 2018 CCL runner-up Toronto FC in the round of 16.

Sporting KC only needed to score one goal to take the series lead thanks to its away goal in Panama, but it was stymied time and again by CAI keeper Jose Guerra in the second half. The first SKC shot on target didn't come until first-half stoppage time, then a barrage of chances came in the second half.

In a space of 10 minutes, Gerso Fernandes hit the woodwork, Graham Zusi's low shot was palmed away by Guerra, Johnny Russell's rebound hit Guerra in the face, Felipe Gutierrez's shot was saved by Guerra and his rebound attempt went off the post.

Sporting KC, which finished with a 27-5 edge in shots, finally broke through in the 74th minute on the first of two goals scored by Krisztian Nemeth on a volley of a header played across the goal by fellow Hungarian international Botond Barath.

Russell played a ball back for Espinoza to put away for the second goal, and Nemeth finished off the scoring with his fourth goal of the competition in the 86th minute.

"The great thing is we had a good mentality," said Sporting KC manager Peter Vermes. "We never stopped and it was a matter of finding the first goal. Their goalkeeper, he stood on his head today. He had a lot of great saves and played very well."

March 14 in Kansas City, Kan.
Sporting KC 3 CAI 0. Goals: Nemeth 74, 86, Espinoza 81.
Sporting KC -- Melia; Zusi, Barath, Besler, Sinovic (Wallace 92+); Ilie, Espinoza, Gutierrez; Russell, Nemeth (Croizet 89), Salloi (Fernandes 21).
CAI -- Guerra; Cordoba (Bellino 84), Negrete, Torres; Gonzalez, Ayarza (Barrow 78), Vence, Ivey; Aguilar, Bolivar (Corpas 64), Browne.
Att.: 13,212.

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