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02 March 3:05 de la tarde

I promise you this was not set up.

Whitecaps forward Eric Hassli spent today's post-practice media availability talking up his teammates as players but also citing new sense of camaraderie among the team as a reason for their impressive preseason form (they've been the best team here in Orlando, at least for my money). And then, as if on cue, this happened. It's like the soccer gods willed it to offer proof to the world that what Hassli spoke was the truth.

There's no doubt that the Whitecaps will fare better in 2012 than they did last year and that they now seem more like a team that 11 guys wearing the same colored shirt --that's the Impact's problem now. We'll just have to wait and see if their good times will roll all the way to MLS Cup.

02 March 2:15 de la tarde

By Greg Seltzer

GENOA, Italy — The aftermath of the US men's national team's first-ever win over Italy on Wednesday is proving almost as fun as the event, and most of the report cards reflect that.

It looked as though Azzurri ace Andrea Pirlo was getting around to giving the home side's "B+" side the lead, but the visitors made sure that never happened. The Yanks played confidently enough in their own right to allow red, white and blue-hot Clint Dempsey to fire up the victory celebration.

As a periodic reminder, "6" is the average mark. All ratings are relative to match time played, with a 90-minute "7" standing higher than one given for 15 minutes.

Tim Howard (7) - It was very unlike the Everton star to have a couple of early calamities dealing with both the bouncing ball and an Azzurri onrusher, but fortunately he got away with them. After those nervous opening moments, it was Howard business as usual.

Steve Cherundolo (7) - Back in his corner, 'Dolo kept things rather tidy. Offensively, the Hannover 96 skipper was hampered by having a defensive midfielder up his flank. Cherundolo managed to rush forward into great crossing position once, but over-hit it.

Clarence Goodson (6.5) - There were times when he needed help or good fortune (and got it) dealing with Pirlo's paintbrush. However, Goodson more often than not was clearing attacks (even when he looked in trouble).

Carlos Bocanegra (8.5) - The captain was in total command, so he deserves a salute. Nearly flawless on the night, Bocanegra even managed to make a couple of big plays when he'd initially been beaten.

Fabian Johnson (6.5) - I'll admit to grumbling and shaking my head when the line-up sheet was handed to me. But fair is fair, and Johnson was largely fair. He found plenty of time to press into attack, contributed to the winner and eventually settled in at the back as a disruptor. It's those repeated issues in his corner over the opening half hour and the fact that he'd rather wiggle into the area on the dribble than cross that keeps my mind made up he should be properly played on the wing. Not budging on that, would rather he not have to travel so far to get to the area.

Maurice Edu (7) - Mo has gotten smoother as a guided missile defensive midfielder almost every time out for months now, both with club and country. His ability to periodically dip into attack is less convincing, though.

Michael Bradley (8.5) - I'll guess that I've been in the stands to watch Mikey "clock in" about 30-35 times. He may have two or three better overall performances than he had on Wednesday. The fully apparent fun he was having bossing midfield in the second half, however, stands numero uno.

Daniel Williams (5.5) - It seems so unfair to grade him for playing out wide, but of course we'll go right ahead with it. Williams actually performed a couple of genuine offensive intent actions this time, but the best we can say is still that he's sure one fine track-back wing man.

Clint Dempsey (8) - Deuce was filled with intent if not terribly effective before the break. He was just softening them up. Gianluigi Buffon, who hardly stood a chance on Dempsey's shot from 18 yards out, might want to start checking underneath his bed for the American; he was a monster post halftime.

Brek Shea (5.5) - To be fair, he was probably up against the second-best Italy player on the night, Christian Maggio. Shea's still a work in progress, but this match will help his art form.

Jozy Altidore (7) - I keep telling everyone how his passing is so underrated. This striker feeds an easy pass to hit. Altidore also did the hold-up work, showing again that AZ was the right move.

Coach Jurgen Klinsmann (8) - As noted here, there are are still questions about his field placement for players. That unpleasantness out of the way, this team now plays out of the back until holding a 1-0 lead in the waning moments. This team now goes out on the Luigi Ferraris pitch and "plays football" like it expects to grab the game against an Italy, no matter who may be missing.

Yeah. You saw it. And you also saw why Klinsmann makes the big bucks.

Subs:

Sacha Kljestan (6) - I'm not exactly sure what he's supposed to do on left wing, other than help at the back. And there ya go.

Jonathan Spector (8) - There aren't many 13-minute shifts that practically seal victory, some don't even get a grade. Spector may need an exorcism because he was possessed in the final minutes. He blocked, poked away or shoulder-bumped silly anything that came near him as the hosts scrambled for an equalizer that never came.

Terrence Boyd (-) - After the match, he still looked in a daze walking to the team bus. That about sums up his cameo, but I have a new research project to find the last international player in the world to get his debut cap before appearing for a club first team - which likely explains the cameo.

Edson Buddle (-) The guy with the shortest shift did manage to kill a bit of time.

02 March 2:00 de la tarde

Being a referee is not just a thankless job; sometimes it can be downright dangerous.  One AR found out the hard way when he became collateral damage on this rough tackle.

02 March 11:16 de la mañana

Who's up for a bit of punk rock fiddly-dee to go along with their footie?

If that'd be you then make your way to Crew Stadium on May 26 to catch a full, 90 minute show from Celtic punk stalwarts Flogging Molly presented by CD101 after the Columbus Crew - Chicago Fire match. VIP field access tickets will be available for purchase at www.thecrew.com/floggingmolly.

Apparently Flogging Molly drummer George Schwindt is a Columbus native and has been a Crew season-ticket holder for the last five years. This leads me to a great idea, at least in my mind, for the next All Star game: half time punk rock drum-off between him and Branden Steineckert. Loser's band has to open for the other band wearing the kits of the winner's club!

02 March 10:36 de la mañana

It was a boldface lie. Ferrell has turned around and shot a film entirely in Spanish … So what better place than Mexico vs. Colombia to promote the flick alongside stunning actress  Genesis Rodriguez? With Ferrell’s attendance at a Mexican national team match, we put his Spanish and his loyalty to the US colors to the test.

02 March 2:03 de la mañana

My trip down to the Disney Pro Soccer Classic has been a trip of many firsts: my first time in Orlando, my first trip to Disney. Add my first NBA game to the list as I just spent an evening with the guys from Sporting KC basking in the vertically-gifted glow of Kevin Durant and Dwight Howard.

For the Sporting KC players, staff, ownership and family, it was a fun night away from the tedium of the practice field and the hotel. For me it was an opportunity to see a bit of live sport that wasn't soccer --a very rare treat-- and to catch up with a few players I hadn't seen in a while like CJ Sapong, Kei Kamara and Chance Myers. I also got to see Aurelien Collin rock a leather vest over a sleeveless shirt while wearing sneakers covered in metal spikes; who knew Mad Max had a French cousin who played centerback?

Teal Bunbury was also in the house, fresh off of the U.S. Olympic team's victory over Mexico last night in Dallas. Unfortunately for him rookie Dom Dwyer was also there to. Check out the clip above and you'll see what I mean.

02 March 1:37 de la mañana

Do you know what I love more than ice cream and Sacha Kljestan's moustache? Eric Wynalda talking US Soccer. 

Sure, you or I may not agree with a lot of what he has to say but you can't argue that he's always entertaining. Hear what the US World Cup veteran had to say about the Yanks' big win over Italy yesterday on today's episode of Kick's The Mixer. Come for the Wynalda, stay for the Conrad.

01 March 6:49 de la tarde

It was a festive morning in The City Beautiful as Commissioner Don Garber made a whistle stop in downtown Orlando today. To say the city, Orlando City Soccer Club and its supporters rolled out the red carpet for the commish is an understatement. There were digital billboards like the one pictured above. A banner hung out front of city hall, not far from the statue commemorating the city's 1994 World Cup matches. And then there was the reception the OCSC's supporters gave Garber when he walked into the room.

In a word, it was "raucous".

Though the city's place at the MLS table isn't a forgone conclusion, the sense of excitement in the room for what may lay ahead was palpable, not only from the fans but from OCSC owner Phil Rawlins.

"It was extraordinary to see all the fans out here in the middle of the workday at midweek, a tremendous display of passion. Very heart-warming."

As for next steps, Rawlins plans on staying the current course.

"We're going to keep on doing what we've already done and build on a successful 2011, both on and off the field. Hopefully, as Don said earlier, it's not a matter of "if" but "when."

01 March 6:09 de la tarde

TUCSON, Ariz. – Lionel Messi. Arjen Robben. Sebastian Velasquez?

Real Salt Lake captain Kyle Beckerman made that lofty comparison of the Colombian-born, South Carolina-raised rookie attacker who has been impressing in preseason camp.

It’s that left-footed unpredictability that has Beckerman – and all of RSL – excited.

“He’s got that lefty whatever it is,” Beckerman said on Wednesday night. “I can’t pinpoint it but Messi has it, Arjen Robben. These lefties. Fabián [Espíndola] has it. They’re able to skin players.”

Not bad company for a guy who played junior college ball. But then again, not even Messi or Robben scored 55 goals over 33 games, like Velasquez did at tiny Spartanburg Methodist College.

What do you think? Is Velasquez the real deal?