Sporting Kansas City 3, Real Esteli 0 | CONCACAF Champions League Match Recap
KANSAS CITY, Kan. – It was chippy, choppy and closer than it might have been until the last half-hour. But thanks to Claudio Bieler, it was also the convincing win Sporting Kansas City needed to take full control of their own destiny in CONCACAF Champions League group play.
Bieler, starting at center forward with leading scorer Dom Dwyer given the night off, scored once in each half to lead Sporting to a 3-0 victory over Nicaraguan side Real Esteli on Tuesday night, giving Kansas City sole possession of the lead in Group 2 with one match to go.
Halftime sub Sal Zizzo added an insurance goal for Sporting, who are on seven points going into next month's group finale against Deportivo Saprissa in Costa Rica. Saprissa are on four points, and Sporting hold a plus-2 goal differential in the head-to-head tiebreaker, meaning they would advance to next year's knockout stage with a win, draw or a one-goal loss.
Winger Graham Zusi will miss that match on caution accumulation, after receiving one of eight cautions – five to Sporting players – handed out by Honduran referee Oscar Moncada.
Esteli were eliminated with the loss, finishing 0-2-2 in the group stage.
Despite having only two days' rest between Tuesday's match and Friday's big home league match against New England, Sporting manager Peter Vermes went with an XI heavy on regular starters. Still, Kansas City weren't able to turn their early advantages in possession and attack into a big lead on the scoreboard.
Sporting had a nervy moment in the eighth minute, when Elvis Angel Figueroa got loose on the left side of the penalty area and got off a shot that pinballed around before 'keeper Eric Kronberg – making his first start since late June after recovering from a broken left hand – was able to control it.
Five minutes after that, Bieler put Sporting up 1-0 with a calm finish from inside the 6-yard box. Left back Seth Sinovic sent in a low cross from the wing, and Bieler ran onto it and shot past Justo Lorente for his first goal of the night.
Bieler should have made it 2-0 in the 26th, when Zusi drove to the end line and left a perfect ball in his path, but the Argentinean DP botched his touch and the ball was cleared harmlessly away. Zusi nearly scored with a chip over Lorente shortly after that, but the ball went just wide of the left post.
But in the 69th minute, Bieler atoned for his earlier miss by splitting two defenders in the penalty area and drawing a foul on Elmer Mejia. He converted the resulting spot kick, although Lorente guessed correctly and dived to his near left, to give Sporting a more comfortable 2-0 lead.
After playing sparingly for much of the year, due in large part to Dwyer's record-breaking season, Bieler now has three goals in Sporting's last three matches across all competitions.
Things got even more comfortable for the hosts in the 78th minute, when Zizzo rose to meet Toni Dovale's corner kick and sent a looping header over Lorente and just inside the left post.
Steve Brisendine covers Sporting Kansas City for MLSsoccer.com.