Sporting Kansas City recorded a 1-1 road result against Real Esteli FC on Tuesday night in their opening game of the 2014-15 CONCACAF Champions League at Estadio Independencia in Esteli, Nicaragua. After conceding in the sixth minute, Sporting KC leveled the score 10 minutes later with a perfectly placed free kick from Antonio Dovale in his CCL debut.
Real Esteli FC now leads Group 2 with two points from back-to-back home draws while Sporting KC and Deportivo Saprissa share second place in the standings. The group winner, determined after the four-game round robin group stage, advances to the quarterfinals.
Having traveled more than 2,000 miles from Kansas City to reach the Central American destination, Sporting KC fell behind early when Daniel Da Silva found space behind the backline on the left side of the penalty area. Homegrown goalkeeper Jon Kempin -- making his third consecutive competitive appearance in the aftermath of injuries to Eric Kronberg and Andy Gruenebaum -- slid low to make the inital save but the rebound ricocheted off the body of Jorge Claros amidst his recovery run and carried across the goalline.
The visitors quickly earned the equalizer within 10 minutes time on a free kick drawn by Graham Zusi. The MLS All-Star stood over the ensuing set piece as a decoy while Dovale struck a bending, left-footed shot over the wall and inside the near post.
The 24-year-old now has two goals in all competition for Sporting Kansas City since signing from Spain's La Liga earlier this year. Dovale becomes the 18th different goal scorer for Sporting KC all-time in international competition.
Real Esteli FC nearly capitalized on a dead ball opportunity of their own in the 27th minute only to see Eduardo Praes' header carom off the outside of the post. The Nicaraguan champions outshot their MLS counterparts 11-5 on the artificial surface but failed to find a breakthrough goal for their first ever win in the CONCACAF Champions League.
Kempin -- the fifth goalkeeper to appear in a competitive international match for the team in club history -- made two strong saves to preserve the point, including a sprawling stop in the 53rd minute to deny Da Silva from close range. The Leawood, Kansas native was called into action again in the 81st minute to push away Juan Barrera's first-time volley at the far post.
Sporting Kansas City's best opportunity to claim the game's decisive goal came in the 74th minute. Second half substitute Benny Feilhaber delivered a free kick into the penalty area that twice changed directions due to deflections but was eventually smothered in front of the goalline by Real Esteli FC goalkeeper Justo Lorente.
Tuesday's 1-1 draw was a repeat result from the previous meeting between the two sides on Sept. 17, 2013 at Sporting Park in the 2013-14 edition of the competition. Sporting KC is now 6-4-5 all-time in the CONCACAF Champions League with three games remaining in the group stage: Sept. 18 vs. Deportivo Saprissa, Sept. 23 vs. Real Esteli FC and Oct. 23 at Deportivo Saprissa.
Sporting Kansas City will return home to resume the MLS regular season at 7:30 p.m. CT on Saturday, Aug. 23 when the League leaders host D.C. United at Sporting Park in a clash of the top two teams in the Eastern Conference. A limited number of tickets are available for the match and can be purchased online at Ticketmaster.com.