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Real Esteli vs. Sporting Kansas City | CONCACAF Champions League Match Preview

Real Estelí vs. Sporting Kansas City
2014-15 CONCACAF Champions League
August 19 | 10 pm ET | Estadio Independencia
TV: Fox Soccer Plus, UDN

Sporting Kansas City’s first shot back in the CCL begins Tuesday night, nearly 3,000 miles from where they won MLS Cup last November. After crashing out in the quarterfinals last time around to Mexican powers and eventual tourney champions Cruz Azul, SKC open on the road against reigning Nicaraguan champs Real Estelí, a team they know well from the group stage in 2013. Kansas City rolled to a 2-0 win when these teams played at Estadio Independencia a year ago, and SKC are eager to get points right away before they face the real Central American threat in this group, Costa Rican side Saprissa.

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MINUTE MEN: Sporting KC are in the middle of another impressive MLS season under head coach Peter Vermes, but there’s more than two months ago before the club can celebrate a Supporters’ Shield. In the meantime, Vermes will have to tweak his lineup accordingly to stay afloat in CCL, and that means managing minutes for his regulars in what by all accounts should be a winnable game a long way from home.

NET GAIN: Suddenly the man in goal for Sporting is Homegrown hero Jon Kempin, who’s had a busy past two weeks. With recent injuries felling starter Eric Kronberg and backup Andy Gruenebaum, Kempin stepped in for SKC for the first time more than a week ago and stopped a penalty kick from Vancouver’s Darren Mattocks, and then he posted his first win as a starter in front of the SKC home crowd on Saturday. The rest of Vermes’ lineup is up for grabs, but Kempin is a safe bet to be the man between the posts.

LOSE OR DRAW: Real Estelí are no strangers to the CCL, even if they’ve never had much success. Despite winning each of the past seven Nicaraguan Apertura and Clausura crowns – they’re the only Nicaraguan team to ever play in the CCL – they’re still in search of their first win in the tournament (0-9-5) in group and preliminary round play since 2008). Their surprising 1-1 draw in Kansas City last September, however, was certainly a positive and should at least put teams on notice that they could be pesky, and they’ve already posted a 1-1 home draw against Saprissa in the teams’ opener on Aug. 6.

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PLAYERS TO WATCH:

IGOR JULIÃO, KANSAS CITY: Right back is never the sexiest position on the field, but consider this: If SKC are going to survive CCL and make a push for the second straight MLS title, they need this Brazilian teenager to step up. Tasked with somehow replacing the injured Chance Myers, Julião has started 15 matches this season, with mixed results.

RUDEL CALERO, REAL ESTELÍ: At 31 years old, Calero has been around the block for both Real Estelí and the Nicaraguan national team. He’s been through some high times and some low ones in his career, but he’s off to a sharp start in the new season in Nicaragua, and is leading the league in goals scored (4) after just three games. He’s also scored twice in 10 career CCL games, including the team’s lone goal of that draw in Kansas City last September.

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