CONCACAF Champions League Preview: Sporting Kansas City - Cruz Azul

Jon Arnold
MLS Preview: Sporting Kansas City - San Jose Earthquakes

MLS Cup champion Sporting Kansas City looks to continue its inaugural CONCACAF Champions League run when it hosts current Liga MX leader Cruz Azul in the first leg their quarterfinal Wednesday.

The hosts, in the competition by virtue of their 2012 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup victory, haven't had the advantage of playing a lot of matches, opening the season with a 1-0 loss in Seattle just four days ago. But it will have the advantage of a boisterous home crowd and chilly weather at Sporting Park, where they lifted MLS Cup in sub-freezing temperatures months ago. The temperature at match time is expected to be around 48 degrees.

Both of Sporting's usual starting fullbacks missed the loss to Seattle with injuries, as did midfielder Paulo Nagamura. All three could return, but their status for Wednesday's encounter is unclear. So too is the side the visitors will put on the field, with reports in the Mexican press indicating Cruz Azul, like Toluca on Tuesday, may make several changes from the weekend and play several reserve players in the first leg of the quarterfinal. Either way, Peter Vermes is likely to field his best possible lineup, which should include U.S. national team stalwarts, center back Matt Besler and midfielder Graham Zusi.

Some of those changes could be more tactical in nature, with Cruz Azul coming off a 3-0 loss to Tigres on Saturday. It was the first loss of the Clausura pinned on the capital club, with the club otherwise in tremendous form. La Maquina has just the weekend loss and a draw against Monterrey blemishing its record and owes much of its success to offseason acquisition Marco Fabian. The gold-medal winner's career had stagnated after a move abroad fell through and he struggled to find success in the Chivas squad. Joao Rojas and Chaco Gimenez have also been in excellent form for Cruz Azul.

Each team is still undefeated in the competition, Sporting emerging from Group 2 with two wins and two draws and Cruz Azul taking the maximum points in Group 3.

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