Kevin Ellis (right) turns to celebrate after scoring the only goal in Sporting Kansas City's 1-0 win over visiting Cruz Azul in the CONCACAF Champions League on March 12, 2014. (Photo: Jamila St. Ann)
KANSAS CITY, Kansas – Kevin Ellis scored in the first half to lift Sporting Kansas City to a 1-0 win over visiting Cruz Azul on Wednesday in the opening leg of their CONCACAF Champions League (CCL) quarterfinal series at Sporting Park.
The Sporting defender received the ball on the left side of the 18-yard box, took a touch inside and, with two Cruz Azul defenders converging, put his low shot inside the near post from 14-yards out to give the host a 1-0 lead in the 17th minute.
It was the first goal Cruz Azul has conceded in the first half of a CCL game in 2013-14.
Sporting demonstrated early attacking intent with Graham Zusi mishitting from 15 yards out in the ninth minute.
In the 33rd minute, Ike Opara’s effort from distance forced goalkeeper Jose Corona to parry over the crossbar for a corner kick.
Corona again came up big in the 44th minute, when Claudio Bieler first cut inside and then outside on defender Luis Perea, before firing on frame from 22 yards only for the 33-year-old to tap it away for another corner.
Cruz Azul, which had won all of its previous six CCL quarterfinal games by a combined 11-1, nearly equalized in the closing seconds of the first half, but Marco Fabian’s missed wide.
Eleven minutes after the break, Mariano Pavone was played in behind the Sporting Kansas City defense to compel goalkeeper Eric Kronberg off his line. Kronberg played the angle well, taking Pavone wide. Opara then cleared the Argentine striker’s attempt from 12-yards out over the end line.
Seth Sinovic made another critical goal-line clearance on the ensuing corner kick as Sporting Kansas City, which was tied for least amount of goals conceded (one) in the Group Stage with Alajuelense, survived a brief onslaught.
Second-half substitute Jacob Peterson almost struck for his third career CCL goal in the 64th minute only to see his shot from 25 yards crash off the crossbar.
Five minutes from full time, a ball deflected off Opara and into the 18-yard box. Kronberg, however, pounced to outrace Pavone to the ball.
The second leg will be played at the Estadio Azul in Mexico City on March 19.
NOTES: Cruz Azul played its 45th CCL game, breaking the record it shared with Santos.