KANSAS CITY, Kan. – Kevin Ellis gave his hometown fans something to celebrate and put his club in the driver's seat of their CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal.
He'll be even happier if his breakout game, in just his fourth career start, can propel Sporting Kansas City to a victory in the two-match, total-goals series with Mexico's Cruz Azul.
"It means a lot, but more importantly, we got the win," Ellis, a native of Kansas City, Mo., said after scoring the game-winner in Sporting's 1-0 win over Mexico's Cruz Azul on Wednesday night. "That's what means the most. These home-and-away games, you have to get the result at home."
The second half of the series will be played March 19 in Mexico City. Sporting will advance to the semifinals with a draw, or even a one-goal loss other than 1-0.
"Look, they're not going to go down without a major fight," manager Peter Vermes said. "We're going to have to be prepared for everything. As much as our focus and our concentration and our work effort was good here, it's going to have to be double there."
For Cruz Azul, who opened 2014 with a nine-match unbeaten streak before falling 3-0 Saturday to Tigres UANL in league play, the challenge will be to reverse its recent run of setbacks.
"We'll have to attack and take some calculated risks," manager Luis Fernando Tena said through an interpreter. "That'll likely open up the game, so I think you'll see a wide-open game with more chances for both teams.
Ellis, starting at right back with Chance Myers still recovering from a groin strain, scored in the 17th minute off an assist from Claudio Bieler. He collected Bieler's pass on the left side of the penalty area, worked his way into space under pressure from two defenders and put his shot in the lower left corner of the goal.
"Claudio hit a world-class ball with the outside of his right foot," Ellis said. "I just took a touch, took another touch, put my head down and hit it and hoped it went in."
Eric Kronberg recorded his fourth shutout in five Champions League starts for Sporting, with the help of last-ditch clearances from defenders Ike Opara in the 54th minute and Seth Sinovic in the 55th.
Opara cleared Mariano Pavone's shot off the goal line in the 54th minute. On the ensuing corner kick, Sinovic headed Marco Fabian's deflected header out of the goalmouth.
Replays indicated that Fabian's header went off Feilhaber's upper arm, which should have resulted in a penalty kick, but referee Elmer Bonilla allowed play to continue.
Tena did not address the non-call directly, and said Bonilla did a good job on the night, but also said there had been mistakes both ways from the referee.
"We'd say the same thing about this game that we'd say about any game, anywhere in the world," he said. "The referee is going to make some mistakes, some for and some against, and that's pretty much what happened tonight."